Defense Secretary Esper lands in Israel amid F-35 sale talks

Meeting comes a week after Gantz flew to Washington where the two signed a deal securing Israel’s QME.

Benny Gantz meets with Mark Esper, October 29, 2020 (photo credit: DEFENSE MINISTRY)
Benny Gantz meets with Mark Esper, October 29, 2020
(photo credit: DEFENSE MINISTRY)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz hosted on Thursday US Defense Secretary Mark Esper as part of ongoing talks between the two defense ministries amid procurement talks prior to an expected sale of F-35 stealth fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates.
Esper, who is on a working visit to the region, met with Gantz and toured an Iron Dome missile defense battery at Ben-Gurion Airport where they were briefed on the operation of the system and its importance by Lt. Tova Winick, a lone soldier from San Diego. The two officials were then briefed by Rafael CEO and DDR&D representatives on the defense system recently purchased for the American military.
He then held meetings with the director-general of the Defense Ministry Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Amir Eshel, IDF Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi and other senior officers. Gantz later took part in Esper’s meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
During the meeting, the two teams discussed “the critical components of security cooperation” between the two respective bodies in relation to changes in the Middle East and the “imperative to maintain regional security and stability and to confront Iran,” Gantz’s office said in a statement.
Gantz, who has flown to Washington to meet with Esper twice since the normalization of ties between Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi, expressed his appreciation for Esper’s “personal involvement” in the process which led to the two allies signing a declaration of Washington’s commitment to Israel’s qualitative military edge.
“As the region is changing and taking huge steps forward, we have worked together to make sure that we leverage those changes to maximize peace and stability in our region,” Gantz told Esper. “The joint declaration we signed last week means that Israel will have the tools it needs to contend with aggressive and destabilizing forces, making it an even more effective ally to the US and creating the conditions for peace to prosper.”
Gantz also thanked Esper for confirming the intentions of the US to “significantly upgrade Israel’s military capacity to the benefit of regional stability.”
In return, Esper expressed his “deep appreciation” for the discourse between the two allies that “has ensured Israel the tools it needs to deal with the changing challenges in the region.”
During Gantz’s whirlwind visit last week, he was informed that Washington plans to notify Congress in the near future of its intention to supply the UAE with “certain weapons systems,” likely the advanced F-35 stealth fighter jet.
And though Israel has long objected to the sales of the advanced multi-role jets to the Gulf states, the government dropped its protests against the deal in a joint statement by Gantz and Netanyahu.
On Thursday, Reuters reported that the White House notified Congress it intends to sell 50 F-35 stealth fighter jets.
By November, the IAF will have 27 F-35i Adir aircraft out of a total of 50 planes set to land in the coming years, to make two full squadrons by 2024. The IAF announced in August that as part of changes to make the force more efficient and better able to contend with regional threats, a third F-35i Adir squadron will open next year.
The agreement that was signed between Jerusalem and Washington last week will supposedly enable long-term procurement plans that will provide Israel with advanced weapons systems to “significantly upgrade its military capabilities, fortify Israel’s security and regional military superiority and preserve its qualitative military edge in the coming decades,” the Defense Ministry said after Gantz landed back in Israel following the meeting.
While the ministry has remained tight-lipped about what was agreed to, according to an unconfirmed report in Breaking Defense, Israel may get direct access to the US Space-Based Infrared System, a classified US satellite surveillance grid designed to spot missile launches.