Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US Braces for Fallout from F-15E Sale to Israel Arab Nations May Be Concerned about Sale of Top-of-the-Line Fighters, but Clinton Insists Israel Must Feel Secure for Peace to Go Forward

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US Braces for Fallout from F-15E Sale to Israel Arab Nations May Be Concerned about Sale of Top-of-the-Line Fighters, but Clinton Insists Israel Must Feel Secure for Peace to Go Forward

Article excerpt

THE Middle East peace process may finally be lurching forward - but when it comes to United States arms exports, Israel remains a preferred customer.

That is a signal the Clinton administration sent this week by dangling a sale of modified F-15E warplanes in front of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The Strike Eagle F-15E model is among the fanciest attack jets in the Air Force arsenal. The version Israel might buy would be the most capable warplane ever exported by US manufacturers.

It would, for instance, have greater ground-attack capability than the 72 F-15FXs the US last year agreed to sell Saudi Arabia.

The 20 jets Israel wants would be worth just shy of $2 billion. Officially, the Israelis have made no decision between the F-15E variant and other US products, such as the F-16 or F-18. But Pentagon officials said the F-15 was a leading candidate.

Paying for the plane remains a problem. Even with a long-term schedule, payments would take large chunks of the $1.8 billion in annual US aid to Israel. "I hope that by the end of this week, or later, a decision will be made," Mr. Rabin said Nov. 15, after meeting with Secretary of Defense Les Aspin for three hours. Arab reaction unknown

How Arab nations will react to the prospect of a big arms sale to Israel during peace negotiations remains to be seen. But Clinton officials insist that unless Israel feels that it can retain its regional military edge, it will not feel secure enough to make needed negotiation concessions.

The F-15E's attraction - in its stripped-down Israeli version, it would be dubbed the F-15I - is its ability to drop precision-guided weapons at great ranges, at night or in bad weather.

While Israeli Air Force F-16s have some limited deep-strike capability, they can only reach about halfway into, say, Iraq. Yet Iran's developing Scud ground-to-ground missile capability, as well as worry about Saddam Hussein, are legitimate Israeli concerns, one expert argues.

Israel is "going to have to develop the capability to strike deeper than ever before," says Michael Eisenstadt, a military analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. …

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