Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Mixed Signals in U.S.-Israel and U.S.-GCC Relationship

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Mixed Signals in U.S.-Israel and U.S.-GCC Relationship

Article excerpt

Mixed Signals in U.S.-Israel and U.S.-GCC Relationship

The United States sent and received mixed messages about its strategic relationships with several U.S. allies in the Middle East as 1997 came to a close.

At the height of the crisis in Iraq, the U.S. gave tacit approval for an ambitious Israeli military modernization program that could cost American taxpayers in excess of $10 billion. During a Nov. 4 meeting at the Pentagon between U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen and his Israeli counterpart, Yitzhak Mordechai, Cohen announced that the Clinton administration will request $1.8 billion in military aid for Israel in fiscal year 1999. Since this is the same amount Israel has received annually for the past several years, it ended any speculation that in view of the end of the Cold War and Israel's increasing prosperity, U.S. aid might be reduced.

Instead, the announcement was interpreted by many as a signal of U.S. support for an Israeli military modernization plan that unofficially commits Washington to maintaining the present $1.8 billion level in annual military aid to Israel through the year 2006.

The Israeli initiative, which first was detailed in the U.S. trade weekly Defense News, conditions a massive, multi-year Israeli purchase of military hardware on continued U.S. military aid at the current $1.8 billion level. The Israeli purchases over the next 10 years will include $10 billion worth of advanced American military hardware, including fighter aircraft and attack helicopters. This also will allow Israel to continue spending $475 million of its U.S. aid annually on defense items and services in Israel, which is the only country allowed to use significant amounts of U.S. military aid for purchases from its own rather than U.S. manufacturers.

By law the United States cannot commit to multi-year funding agreements beyond the next fiscal year. Unofficially, however, it appears that the Clinton administration is sidestepping that U.S. statute by signaling to Israel that it can expect continued military aid from the United States at the $1.8 billion level for at least the next 10 years. And given Congress' repeated attempts to outdo even the Clinton administration in offering American largesse to Israel, it is doubtful that Clinton or his successors will encounter significant congressional opposition to a maneuver that would be unthinkable if it were used in connection with any other country. (For more on this topic, see "Congress and the Pentagon Add $464 Million in Aid to Israel in 1998," in the October/November 1997 Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, p. 20.)

Israel can expect continued military aid from the U.S. at the $1.8 billion level for at least the next 10 years.

On an unrelated track, however, the U.S. - Israel defense relationship may be hitting a bump in the road. According to reports in Defense News, U.S. Secretary of Defense Cohen planned to express U.S. concerns about Israel's ongoing military relationship with China during scheduled Dec. 17-18 meetings in Tel Aviv.

At issue were negotiations between China and Israel for Israel's Python-4 air-to-air missile. The Python-4, made by Israel's state-owned Elbit company, is "perhaps the most lethal short-range air-to-air missile now in service" anywhere in the world, according to Heritage Foundation senior policy analyst Richard Fisher. It is used in conjunction with a highly advanced helmet-mounted sight also developed by Elbit, which currently is being co-developed with the U.S. Kaiser firm to equip pilots who will fly the next generation of U.S. fighter aircraft. "Thus, if China purchases the Python-4, it also may receive technology that the U.S. intends to use for its first helmet-sighted missile," said Fisher.

The Python-4's high speed, unprecedented stress tolerance, high off-boresight capabilities (which allow pilots to launch the missile at targets up to 60 degrees to their right or left), and beyond-visual-range capabilities would provide China an enormous boost in air-to-air missile technology that could further erode America's military edge in Asia. …

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