"...the Arms Control Association [does] so much to keep the focus on the issues so important to everyone here, to hold our leaders accountable to inspire creative thinking and to press for change. So we are grateful for your leadership and for the unyielding dedication to global nuclear security."

– Lord Des Browne
Vice Chairman, Nuclear Threat Initiative
October 20, 2014

Israel Plans to Buy U.S. F-16 Fighters

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.

F-22 Raptor Sale to Israel Supported by Clinton

In an open letter to the Israeli people sent January 19, departing President Bill Clinton wrote he would support the future sale of the F-22 Raptor combat aircraft to Israel, pledging that he would recommend that Israel be "among the first, if not the first, foreign customer." Clinton's pledge, however, is not binding on President George W. Bush and is largely perceived as a symbolic gesture underscoring the U.S. commitment to maintain Israel's "qualitative" military edge in the Middle East.

Still in the development stage, the F-22 is slated to replace the F-15 as the next U.S. air superiority fighter, but the fighter's high cost, estimated at least $180 million per plane, has raised doubts whether the United States will even procure the stealth fighter. Air Force plans call for purchasing a total of 341 Raptors, but the new Bush administration has effectively put all major acquisition programs on hold until the new secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, completes a "top to bottom" review of the U.S. military, which is expected to take months. Nevertheless, an Israeli official welcomed the Clinton letter as a "positive statement."

The outgoing Clinton administration also signed a memorandum of understanding with Israel on January 19 spelling out the unofficial U.S. policy since 1998 of phasing out U.S. economic assistance to Israel by $120 million per year until it is eliminated in 2008. In exchange, the United States has been increasing its military aid to Israel by $60 million per year until it reaches $2.4 billion annually by 2008. Previously, U.S. annual aid to Israel consisted of $1.2 billion in economic assistance and $1.8 billion in military assistance. Like the F-22 pledge, the memorandum is not binding on Bush.

In January 2000, Israel signed a $2.5 billion contract for 50 F-16C/D fighters, with deliveries to begin in 2003. The contract also included an option to buy another 60 fighters for an additional $2 billion, which Israel is currently evaluating. At this time, Israel's air force flies approximately 250 F-16 and 100 F-15 combat aircraft received from the United States.

Israel Declares Arrow System Operational

November 2000

On October 17, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) declared the Arrow-2 theater ballistic missile defense system operational. The IDF announcement did not further explain the move, but an Israeli official said it could be viewed as a "response to the current situation."

Arab-Israeli tensions have been heightened since the outbreak of Israeli-Palestinian violence following the September 28 visit of right-wing Likud leader Ariel Sharon to a sacred, but controversial, site in Jerusalem. Iraq, which has threatened Israel since the latest round of violence started, launched Scud missiles at Israel during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Israel's air force assumed command of the first of three planned Arrow batteries in March and held the first successful test against an incoming target on September 14. (See ACT, October 2000.) The Israeli official commented that the system is now "ready to do what it was designed to do," which is to intercept theater ballistic missiles. Though declared operational, testing of the system will continue and improvements will be made, according to the official, who pointed out that the system is still new.

Jointly developed by the United States and Israel starting in 1988, the Arrow employs a blast fragmentation warhead to destroy incoming targets rather than the hit-to-kill technology being pursued in U.S. systems. Total costs for the system are estimated to reach $2.2 billion by 2010. The United States has contributed approximately $600 million to the effort.

Israel Declares Arrow System Operational

Israel Achieves First Head-On Arrow Intercept

October 2000

Israel moved closer to declaring its Arrow-2 anti-ballistic missile system operational with a successful September 14 intercept of a target launched from an Israeli F-15 fighter aircraft. This marked the first test in which the defense system destroyed an incoming target flying directly toward Israel; previously, both the target and the Arrow missile were fired over the Mediterranean Sea because of range limitations stemming from Israel's small size. The test, for the first time, also featured the Black Sparrow missile target, designed to replicate a Scud target and to fly a Scud trajectory. System testing will continue even after the defense is officially declared operational, which may happen within the next few months.

Unlike similar U.S. theater ballistic missile defense systems that use a kinetic warhead to destroy an incoming target by collision, the Arrow-2 missile carries a blast fragmentation warhead. While reducing the necessity for a direct hit to achieve an intercept, the explosive warhead lessens the certainty that an incoming target will be completely destroyed. An analysis is underway to determine whether the Arrow-2 missile actually collided with the Black Sparrow target in the September 14 test.

The September intercept was the first test since the Israeli air force assumed command of the initial Arrow battery in March. Eventually, Israel plans to deploy three of the mobile batteries to protect its territory.

Israel started work on theater ballistic missile defenses in 1986 and began cooperating with the United States on the Arrow project in 1988. The system is expected to cost $1.6 billion through 2005 with Washington picking up approximately $600 million of the tab. By 2010, Arrow costs are estimated to total $2.2 billion.

Israel Achieves First Head-On Arrow Intercept

Israel Halts Chinese Phalcon Deal

Wade Boese

Aiming to end a prolonged public dispute with Washington, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak told President Bill Clinton on July 11, the first day of a U.S.-brokered Middle East peace summit, that Israel would not complete a 1996 deal that would have given China its first advanced airborne early-warning (AEW) capability. Although upsetting China, the Israeli cancellation averted U.S. congressional threats to withhold aid to Israel if the AEW deal went forward. Washington and Tel Aviv are now holding high-level talks on strengthening their "strategic relationship" and avoiding similar future conflicts.

The United States went public last fall with its long-held opposition to the estimated $1 billion deal for four Phalcon radar systems when the first Russian-supplied plane destined for China arrived in Israel to be outfitted with the system. Designed to provide simultaneous long-range tracking of multiple air and surface targets, the Phalcon radar system, according to U.S. government officials, could impact the Taiwan Strait military balance in China's favor.

Citing the "need to help intimate relations" with the United States during and after the summit, Israel, the largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance, publicly announced on July 12 that it would stop implementation of the Phalcon deal. The announcement emphasized that Israel considered itself to be "together with the United States in the midst of an effort to achieve historic decisions which are related to [Israel's] vital interests." While the summit ended July 25 without a negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, reported Israeli expectations are that if a future peace deal is concluded with the Palestinians or Syria, the United States will provide significant military and financial assistance to Israel.

In announcing the cancellation, Israeli spokesman Gadi Baltiansky stated Israel would "continue to look for ways to implement the [Phalcon] deal" if circumstances changed. However, U.S. congressional and administration sources, as well as an Israeli official with close knowledge of the issue, said the deal is off. The Israeli official noted that "no one" expects circumstances to change in the short or medium term.

Barak resisted U.S. calls earlier this year, even in personal meetings with Clinton and Defense Secretary William Cohen, to void the sale. (See ACT, May 2000.) Describing the final decision as "difficult," the Israeli official pointed to a combination of Cohen's April 3 visit, when he forcefully voiced U.S. concerns, and rising opposition by U.S. Congress members, including long-time Israel supporters, as turning points in Israeli thinking on the issue.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) and four other senior senators sent a bipartisan April 6 letter to Barak expressing their "deep concerns" with Israel's military cooperation with China and warned it could negatively affect U.S.-Israeli relations. The senators implied that Israel would risk the potential "multi-billion dollar U.S. aid package" being discussed as part of a possible peace agreement with Syria if the Phalcon deal went forward.

Representative Sonny Callahan (R-AL), chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, Export Financing and Related Programs, proposed legislation to hold back Israeli aid worth $250 million—the value of one Phalcon system—unless the Pentagon certified that the deal did not pose a threat to U.S. national security. Clinton requested a total of $2.82 billion in U.S. aid for Israel over the next fiscal year.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-NC) also filed, but never officially introduced, the Callahan language on the Senate side. Helms, according to one of his spokesmen, "expected more from an ally than to provide this type of weapon system to a potential adversary." Remarks by Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh in mid-June suggesting Israel could cut imports from the United States if Washington cut aid had further raised Helms' ire.

Callahan dropped his legislation after Israeli Ambassador David Ivry informed the congressman of Israel's decision to stop the sale. Speaking to the House that day, Callahan called the cancellation a "tremendous step in the right direction." Helms' spokesman described the senator as "greatly relieved" by Israel's decision.

Barak, according to Baltiansky, expressed his "sorrow" by letter to Chinese President Jiang Zemin for Israel's cancellation of the deal and reassured him that Israel attached "great importance to her relations with China." Israel started marketing arms to China in 1979.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said July 13 that the deal should be "honored" and that no other country should interfere in Chinese relations with other states. Later that day, Cohen, who was in Beijing when Israel announced its plan, said Jiang raised the issue as one of "concern." Cohen acknowledged U.S. opposition to the sale, but denied it reflected any attempt to "contain China."

Clinton announced July 27 that the United States would conduct a "comprehensive review" to improve U.S.-Israeli relations, including the maintenance of Israel's "qualitative edge" and the modernization of the Israeli military. Although State Department officials would not comment on the talks, the first round of which took place August 7 to 9 in Washington, they reportedly included discussions of Israel vetting with the United States arms sales to specific countries—China, India, Pakistan, and Russia.

THEL Test a Success

July/August 2000

Under development for nearly four years, the joint U.S.-Israeli Tactical High Energy Laser (THEL) destroyed an in-flight, short-range Katyusha rocket for the first time during a June 6 test. Although Lieutenant General John Costello, commanding general of the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command, hailed the test as turning "science fiction into reality," the laser must still undergo several more tests, including tests against multiple rockets, before being shipped to Israel later this year, as currently planned.

Stemming from an April 1996 commitment from President Bill Clinton to then-Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres to help defend northern Israeli cities from terrorist attacks, THEL is a high-energy chemical laser designed to shoot down short-range rockets. In the June 6 test, THEL identified, tracked, and shot down the Katyusha rocket, which was traveling at about a speed of Mach 1, without any preprogrammed information on the rocket's trajectory or outside guidance. The effective range of the laser is classified, and its operational performance is susceptible to environmental factors, such as wind, rain, and fog.

At present, Israel only intends to take delivery of the current THEL demonstrator, while the United States has no plans to acquire the system, which Pentagon officials say is not mobile enough for U.S. defense needs. However, a U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command spokesperson remarked that the "THEL success demonstrates that high-energy lasers do have the potential for meeting the Army's need" for defenses against rockets, mortars, and artillery. The current program is expected to total more than $250 million dollars, including an Israeli contribution of $67.5 million.

THEL Test a Success

Israel Rebuffs U.S. Demand To Cancel China Arms Deal

May 2000

By Wade Boese

Despite strong public opposition from the United States, Israel is proceeding with the sale to China of an advanced airborne early-warning (AEW) radar system, which U.S. officials warn could affect the strategic balance between China and Taiwan. After April meetings with Defense Secretary William Cohen and President Bill Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak would say only that Israel would continue discussions on the deal with the United States.

In a 1996 deal with China worth approximately $1 billion, Israel agreed to equip four Russian-supplied aircraft with the Phalcon system, a state-of-the-art, long-range radar capable of simultaneously tracking multiple airborne and surface targets. U.S. government officials believe, and Israeli officials insist, that no U.S. technology is involved.

If delivered, the Phalcon system—previously supplied to Chile—would provide China's first airborne early-warning and control capability. Taiwan's inventory includes four U.S.-made AEW Hawkeye aircraft, and two more are scheduled for delivery in 2004.

Informed of the sale in June 1996, U.S. opposition only became public last fall. State Department and Pentagon officials contend that Washington has voiced its concerns through diplomatic and military channels since 1996. A National Security Council (NSC) spokesperson said the administration has raised the issue "regularly and repeatedly."

Meeting with Barak on April 3 during a 10-nation visit to Africa and the Middle East, Cohen told a joint press conference, held with the Israeli prime minister, that the United States objected to the Phalcon deal because of its "potential of changing the balance" in the Taiwan Strait. A week later, Cohen repeated Washington's strong opposition and described the sale as "counterproductive" because the technology could find its way back to Israeli rivals in the Middle East.

Barak told the April 3 press conference that Israel was "aware of the sensitivity in the United States with regard to China." However, he said Israel was also "aware of [its] commitments in the contracts that [it has] signed." Barak finished by saying Israel understood the need for "close coordination and contact" with the United States. A senior U.S. administration official reported that Barak repeated similar sentiments in an April 11 meeting with President Bill Clinton in Washington and that discussions would continue.

Barak later met with Chinese President Jiang Zemin in Israel during the first-ever visit to that country by a Chinese head of state. At a joint press conference April 13, Barak intervened twice to answer questions addressed to Jiang about the deal. While again noting U.S. concerns, Barak described Israeli credibility and Israeli relations with China as being of "high importance."

Israel is concerned about canceling the deal and upsetting China, which Israeli officials worry could lead China to increase weapons exports to countries hostile to Israel. In addition, Israel is reluctant to forfeit a profitable deal with a long-time arms customer that could be picked up by British or French companies that competed for the original sale.

An official for BAE Systems, a British company that manufactures AEW systems, said talks with China have been dormant for several months and that BAE is not currently pursuing any deal. The NSC spokesperson remarked that the United States is "prepared to engage other countries in expressing our concerns about issues that could affect the stability of the Asia- Pacific region." When asked, a U.K. government official said he was "not aware of any direct U.S. government lobbying effort on this particular issue."

In his proposed fiscal year 2001 budget, Clinton requested a total of $2.82 billion in military aid and economic support for Israel. Representative Sonny Callahan (R-AL), chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, Export Financing and Related Programs, indicated he would put a hold on $250 million—the value of one Phalcon system—of the proposed aid unless the Pentagon certifies that the Israeli deal does not jeopardize U.S. national security interests. State Department spokesman James Rubin, however, said April 10 that the radar deal should not be tied to U.S. foreign aid.

Israel, the largest recipient of U.S. aid, is also seeking a security package worth approximately $17 billion, involving arms, as well as greater intelligence and early-warning cooperation with the United States, as part of a potential Israeli peace deal with Syria. With the Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations currently stalled, talks on the proposed U.S. security package have been put on hold.

Israel Rebuffs U.S. Demand To Cancel China Arms Deal

Israeli Air Force Takes Command of Arrow System

April 2000

The Israeli air force took operational command of the first of three planned Arrow-2 missile batteries in a March 14 ceremony. Though additional personnel training is required in order for this battery of the anti-ballistic missile system to reach an initial operational capability in a few months, the commander of the Israeli air force, Major General Eitan Ben-Eliahu, told reporters at the ceremony that the battery could be operational in a few days in an emergency. Israel launched its missile defense program with U.S. cooperation in 1986 and initiated the Arrow program two years later. Program costs through 2005 are expected to be approximately $1.6 billion—supported by some $600 million in direct U.S. funding—with costs to reportedly total $2.2 billion by 2010. Last fall, the U.S. Congress approved an additional $45 million for deployment of a third battery to help Israel provide a better defense against what Israel views as a growing threat posed by Iran's ballistic missile programs, specifically the development of the Shahab-3 and Shahab-4 missiles.

Israeli Air Force Takes Command of Arrow System

The Knesset Debates Israel's Nuclear Program

March 2000

For the first time in its history, the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, held a discussion of Israel's nuclear program February 2. Issam Mukhul, an Arab member of the communist Hadash Party, spurred debate on the controversial and previously off-limits subject by petitioning the Israeli Supreme Court to allow a hearing in the face of stiff opposition from the Knesset leadership. But before the Supreme Court could rule, the leadership agreed to a very limited public airing of the issue.

The abbreviated debate, which lasted just under one hour, featured loud exchanges between angry parliamentarians who objected to public discussion of the nuclear issue, and Mukhul and other Arab members who strongly criticized the program on environmental and security grounds. Chaim Ramon, the government's minister for Jerusalem affairs, reiterated Israel's long-standing policy that it would not be the first nation to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East.

While neither Israel nor the United States has ever officially acknowledged the existence of an Israeli nuclear weapons program, Israel is widely considered a de facto nuclear weapons state. Estimates of the size and composition of the Israeli arsenal vary from 50 to hundreds of warheads. Israel is not a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It has signed but not ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

The Knesset Debates Israel's Nuclear Program

Mixed U.S. Signals on Israel-China Deal

A Russian-made aircraft destined for the Chinese military arrived in Israel October 25 to be outfitted with the Phalcon advanced airborne early-warning (AEW) radar system, eliciting contradictory reactions from the Clinton administration. While press reports indicated that the White House had raised concerns about the sale and other Israeli military transfers to China, the State Department publicly downplayed the deal.

In a November 12 press briefing State Department spokesman James Rubin said the U.S. government had "no reason to believe" that the Israeli radar contained any U.S.-controlled technology and therefore American law could not prohibit the sale. However, Rubin stressed that the U.S. regularly holds discussions with Israel on arms sales, particularly ones that involve "sophisticated technology."

Though receipt of the Israeli Phalcon radar system, which enables surveillance activities up to a range of 250 miles, will give China its first AEW capability, the benefit to the Chinese air force will be restricted by a number of practical factors, including the limited time that a single plane can be in service. Beijing will also have to train new crews to operate the plane and will be dependent upon Israel for future maintenance. The initial contract, signed in 1996, called for Israel to equip four Russian-manufactured IL-76 planes with the Phalcon radar, costing $250 million apiece, but Beijing may postpone radar installation on and delivery of the three remaining planes for budgetary reasons and to assess the performance of the first plane.

Israel and China have a history of arms deals and military cooperation dating back to 1979, including work on air-to-air missiles and China's latest indigenously built fighter aircraft, the J-10. On an October visit to Israel, Chinese Defense Minister Chi Haotian reportedly discussed Israeli upgrade of China's aging MiG-21 fleet.


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