The Bush administration violated security related agreements with Israel in which the U.S. promised to preserve the IDF’s qualitative edge over Arab armies, according to senior officials in the Obama administration and Israel.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak traveled to the U.S. in September for a rushed meeting in which it was agreed that the two allies would discuss how to resolve the problems regarding this issue.
U.S. National Security Adviser General James Jones is scheduled to arrive in Israel on Tuesday for what is likely to be talks on the issue of the IDF’s qualitative edge. Senior sources in the current U.S. administration, and senior officials at the foreign and defense ministries in Israel, have suggested that during the last year of the Bush administration the U.S. sold advanced military equipment to moderate Arab states – Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. The Americans justified the arms sales with the need to bolster these countries against the perceived threat posed by Iran.
In an address before the National Jewish Democratic Council, Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, commented on the matter. “We discovered that the qualitative edge of the IDF has been eroded,” Oren said. “We came to the Obama administration and said: ‘Listen, we have a problem.'”
According to Oren the response of the Obama administration was positive and immediate. “They said they are going to deal with this matter and ensure that the qualitative edge of the IDF is preserved,” he said. “Since then we have embarked on a dialogue [on preserving the IDF’s qualitative edge].”
The arms transfers that were particularly disturbing for Israel were of advanced air and naval systems. For example, the U.S. sold Saudi Arabia advanced F-15 fighter-bombers, similar to the ones it sold Israel. According to Israeli assessments, following the U.S. sales to the Saudi kingdom, the Saudi Air Force is currently in possession of 200-250 aircraft of this type.
In addition, the U.S. sold Saudi Arabia and other Arab states satellite-guided and laser-guided “smart bombs” for their fighter aircraft, as well as advanced anti-ship missiles and electronic suites for aircraft, all similar to the equipment in the IDF.
Toward the end of the Bush term in office, the defense establishment recommended to the political leadership to raise the issue with the incoming U.S. administration. Defense establishment officials warned that the U.S. is arming countries in the moderate Arab camp in “a way that erodes the qualitative edge of the IDF, especially in the air.”
In recent months officials close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began quiet exchanges with their U.S. counterparts on ways of retaining the IDF’s balance of arms. The negotiations are held at the highest levels, with the White House and the Pentagon.
In September, for example, a day before the start of the United Nations General Assembly conference in New York, Barak traveled to Washington and the purpose of his meetings there were kept under wraps. At the time, the defense minister’s office announced that Barak had met with Jones and other senior administration officials in order to discuss the resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians.
In subsequent talks between the Obama administration and Israel, Israeli officials have stressed that the arms provided with the aim of bolstering moderate Arab states against Iran could be directed in the future against Israel. A number of meetings have taken place since, in an effort to “assess the damage” and find ways of securing the IDF’s qualitative edge. Last week, Haaretz reported that the Obama administration will sell advanced weapons systems to Arab states.
According to the weekly Jewish publication Forward, as a result of Israeli concerns the Obama administration intends to make changes to deals that the Bush administration signed with Arab states and are currently being implemented.