Ahead of the United States’s planned withdrawal from Iraq, American military teams have visited Israel to consider the possibility of storing some of the equipment and ammunition that is pulled out in special storage centers at various locations here, according to senior defense officials.

According to the officials, the Americans plan to leave a significant amount of equipment in Iraq to assist local security forces. Additional equipment, though, would be transferred to Afghanistan as well as possibly to Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

A security agreement between the United States and Iraq calls for withdrawal of all US forces by the end of 2011. The equipment that Israel might receive, one official said, is ammunition, vehicles, and a specially designed rapid cannon – called C-RAM – that can intercept small projectiles such as mortars.

“There is talk that some of the equipment will be stored in Israel,” the official said. “If that is the case, in the event of an emergency we may be able to use it.”

Last month, Defense News reported that the Pentagon had decided to double the value of emergency military stockpiles it stores in Israel to the value of $800 million. Defense officials said that this was a separate move, not connected to the withdrawal from Iraq.

The US already maintains several stockpiles in Israel that include missiles, armored vehicles, aerial munitions and artillery ordnance. The US began stockpiling equipment in Israel in the early 1990s.

The new deal, according to Defense News, was signed by Brig.-Gen. Ofer Wolf, head of the IDF’s Logistics and Technology Branch and Rear-Adm. Andy Brown, logistics director for the US Military’s European Command (EUCOM).

“Officially, all of this equipment belongs to the US military,” the official said. “If however, there is a conflict, the IDF can ask for permission to use some of the equipment.”

The last time this happened was during the Second Lebanon War in 2006 when the IDF received access to US stockpiles and also received shipments of weaponry, particularly smart bombs from the United States.

In related news, the IDF and the Pentagon are close to reaching an understanding regarding the establishment of a Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) maintenance center in Israel. The JSF is a fifth-generation fighter jet, also known as the F-35, manufactured by Lockheed Martin. The IDF is currently in the midst of advanced negotiations regarding the potential sale of a squadron of the aircraft to Israel.

In the negotiations with the Pentagon, Israeli demands have focused on three issues – the integration of Israeli-made electronic warfare systems into the planes, the integration of Israeli communication systems and the ability to independently maintain the planes in the event of a technical or structural problem.

The Pentagon had initially said that it would establish a maintenance center in Italy but Israel rejected the proposal and said that due to its operational requirements, it needed to have the ability to fix damaged planes immediately.

But the US is insisting on running its own maintenance centers, because the internal computers on the planes are classified and access to them is not given to foreign customers.

As a result, a compromise appears to be in the offing, under which the US will set up a maintenance center on an Israel Air Force base. The center will be manned by Americans who will fix damaged planes.

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