Amid displays of some of the most advanced weaponry available on the international arms market, Israeli government officials at the Paris Air Show notified U.S. aerospace manufacturer Lockheed Martin on June 19 that Israel would buy at least another 50 F-16I combat aircraft later this decade. Israel is exercising an option from a January 2000 contract, worth $2.5 billion for 50 F-16I fighters, that stipulated Israel could purchase up to an additional 60 fighters for an extra $2 billion.
The potential sale is unlikely to run into major hurdles even though the Israeli use of previously supplied U.S. F-16s to strike Palestinian targets May 18 upset some in the U.S. Congress. During a June 3 interview with CNN, Secretary of State Colin Powell indicated that Washington would prefer not to see U.S.-supplied weaponry used against the Palestinians.
At the request of Representative John Conyers (D-MI), the U.S. General Accounting Office is conducting a review of the terms and conditions of U.S. government arms sales to countries in the Middle East. Conyers is seeking to determine whether terms attached to earlier U.S. weapons sales to Israel would rule out their use against Palestinians, and whether Israel violated these terms in its May bombings.
For the option from the January 2000 deal to be exercised, the United States must negotiate a contract with Israel for the purchase of the additional 50 fighters. If a deal is reached, Israel will start taking delivery of the second batch of fighters in 2006 after the first 50 have been delivered, a process that will begin in 2003. Israel currently has approximately 250 F-16s and 100 F-15 combat aircraft supplied by the United States in service.