US officials downplay IDF hopes of 'parting gifts'

New IAF chief Shkedy: Nothing impossible for air force.

US officials on Monday downplayed Israeli expectations that US President George W. Bush, during his three-day visit here beginning Wednesday, will bring with him "parting gifts" to shore up Israel's qualitative military and strategic advantage before he leaves office. According to the officials, there are ongoing intense discussions between Israel and the US on a host of both military and diplomatic issues, but that it is improbable Bush would feel the need to "tie up all the lose ends" on this trip, especially since this visit is not a working visit, but primarily a ceremonial one. The speculation that Bush would give Israel a grocery cart full of state-of-the-art weaponry or technology is coming from those eager to receive the goods, not from those on the giving end, the source said. The source pointed out that with the exception of a meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday, Bush's visit will be mostly state affairs, protocol and ceremonial. "This visit is not chock-full of meetings," the official said. "It is not heavy on substance. It is a couple of speeches and a collective high-five." There is no burning sense in Washington, the official said, that something has to "be delivered" on this visit, but rather that the "deliverable" is the visit itself, Bush's second here since the beginning of the year. Despite US denials, Israeli diplomatic officials continued to say they expected Bush to announce the sale to Israel of a package of military hardware that would upgrade Israel's qualitative strategic advantage. Top Israeli defense delegations have traveled to the US in recent months for talks in the White House and the Pentagon regarding a number of Israeli requests for advanced military platforms. One request has centered on the F-22 - a stealth bomber currently operational in the US - which came up during recent talks in Washington. Israel has asked to be allowed to acquire the jet - currently under congressional sales ban - in face of Iranian attempts to obtain a nuclear weapon. The F-22 can avoid radar detection and is the today the world's most advanced fighter jet. In addition to discussing the F-22, the defense officials also spoke with their US counterparts about receiving two new and advanced models of the JDAM smart bomb in order to retain Israel's qualitative edge over Saudi Arabia, which is supposed to receive the standard smart-bomb kit. Israel is also in talks with the Pentagon over the possibility of connecting to a US worldwide early-warning ballistic missile system. Israel has connected to the radar system in the past - during the First Gulf War in 1991 and ahead of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Meanwhile, in a strong hint to Iran, OC IAF Maj.-Gen. Elazar Shkedy told reporters Monday that "nothing is impossible. The IAF provides outstanding solutions for different issues including challenges that are far away." "The IAF is outstanding and ready for any missions the state will give it," said Shkedy, who on Tuesday will finish up four years in his position and be replaced by Maj.-Gen. Ido Nehushtan. Shkedy said he was "deeply disturbed" by the rhetoric in Iran. "I see how they are developing different capabilities with airplanes, cruise missiles and on the ground and I think we need to take what they say very seriously," he said.