will return to its status as a partner in the development of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), the jet fighter being developed by the US, after Israeli participation was put on hold following the Chinese arms deal crisis.
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz
and US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
met Friday in Washington
and agreed to have Israel return to the project. A joint statement issued by Israel and the US states
that Israel will continue to take part in the project as a "valued" partner and that the US is committed to selling the JSF planes to Israel when the project is completed.
Israeli participation in JSF development was suspended as part of US sanctions against Israel following the Israeli agreement to upgrade Chinese "Harpy" UAV's, which was done without prior consultation with the US.
Mofaz and Rumsfeld signed an agreement this August in which Israel committed itself to tighten control over arms sales and to refrain from signing deals that might harm US interests worldwide. But even after the signing of the agreement, there are still many joint projects that have been halted which the Israeli defense establishment is working to renew. Mofaz said in Washington that he believes the crisis with the US is over and that full cooperation will be resumed.
In the joint statement, both parties vowed to strengthen their defense relationship and "reaffirm that the recently signed joint statement of understanding enables them to continue to reinforce their defense cooperation." The statement goes on to stress the US commitment to Israel's security and to maintaining Israel's qualitative military advantage.
Israel is still at odds with the US over a large deal of upgrading F-16 jet fighters for the Venezuelan air force. The US demanded that Israel freeze the $20 million project and, according to Israeli sources, the matter is still in discussions and was not part of the agenda in Mofaz's Washington visit.
Following the agreement on the Israeli return to the JSF project, Israel will reopen its special office in the US in charge of coordinating Israeli participation in the project. The US has opened the JSF development to participation of other countries and has determined in advance the scope of each country's participation.
Israeli defense industries expect to sign contracts worth tens of millions of dollars as part of the project. The JSF, also known as the F-35 fighter, is supposed to serve as the major aviation platform for all branches of US military and for many military forces around the world, replacing the F-15 and F-16 fighters. Israel has expressed interest in purchasing the future aircraft once it reaches the manufacturing phase.