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A high-level Israeli delegation will meet with officials in Washington this week and demand that restrictions be clamped on the proposed US sale of state-of-the-art weaponry to Saudi Arabia, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
The talks are expected to center on the US decision to sell Joint Direct Attack Munition satellite-guided "smart bombs" to Saudi Arabia. The sale has caused consternation in Jerusalem over concern it could tip the balance of power in the region.
If the sale does go through, Israel has expressed interest in acquiring the F-22 stealth bomber - a plane that can avoid radar detection and is the world's most advanced fighter jet - to maintain its qualitative edge. In April, the Post reported that the IAF had inquired about obtaining the aircraft and had requested that the Defense Ministry present the request on its behalf to the Pentagon.
Israel is to be represented at the talks by Defense Ministry Diplomatic-Military Bureau head Amos Gilad and IDF Planning Directorate head Maj.-Gen. Ido Nehushtan. The US team is to be headed by Beth McCormick, the acting deputy undersecretary of defense for technology security policy and national disclosure policy, and the director of the Defense Department Defense Technology Security Administration.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is scheduled to meet with US President George W. Bush in Washington on June 19. The Saudi arms sale is expected to be a topic of discussion.
The F-22 formally entered operational service in the US Air Force in December 2005. It has not been sold outside the US because of a federal law barring export sale of the aircraft. Congress would need to lift a nine-year ban on its sale to clear the path for an Israeli purchase of the jet.
Japan recently asked the Pentagon for technical data on the fighter jet and is said to be close to making a decision on whether to submit a formal request to purchase the aircraft.
Meanwhile, defense officials on Tuesday told the Post disagreements had emerged between Israel and the US over the installation of Israeli technology in the Joint Strike Fighter, also known as the F-35, which is being developed by Lockheed Martin. IAF commander Maj.-Gen. Elazar Shkedy has announced plans to purchase the aircraft and Lockheed officials have said that delivery could begin the earliest by 2014.
But according to defense officials, the Pentagon and the Defense Ministry were in disagreement over the integration of Israeli-manufactured technology into the aircraft, as has been done with past fighter jets the IAF bought from the US, including the F-15 and the F-16. Last June, Israel threatened to cancel plans to buy the aircraft after over a similar dispute.
"There is no such thing as a crisis," an official close to the talks said. "There are disagreements, and that is why there is a continuous dialogue between the Defense Ministry and the Pentagon so they can be resolved."
Adm. (ret.) Charles Moore Jr., Lockheed Martin's vice president of global sustainment, spoke Tuesday at a conference at the Fischer Bros. Institute for Air and Space Research on fifth-generation stealth aircraft.
In 2003, Israel paid $20 million to join the F-35 project with observer status that granted it access to information accumulated during the development of the jet, which will cost somewhere between $40m.-$50m.
In 2005, Israel's observer status in the F-35 project was revoked after the US accused Israel of upgrading Chinese drones. Then-defense minister Shaul Mofaz reached an agreement with the US later in the year that allowed Israel to return to the project, with restrictions on local defense industries regarding selling weaponry to China. Israel has since stationed two permanent Defense Ministry officials in Washington to head an office that is solely responsible for maintaining the F-35 dialogue with the Pentagon.
The deal was not about to be canceled, government officials said, and Israel planned to purchase the revolutionary aircraft. The officials said the disagreements were being handled on a Pentagon-Defense Ministry level and had not yet reached the diplomatic echelon.
"This issue is a government-to-government issue and Lockheed Martin cannot comment," Lockheed Martin said in a statement.