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Monday, October 4, 2010     GET YOUR INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Israel rejects Obama offer of arms in exchange for construction freeze

JERUSALEM — Israel has rejected an offer by President Barack Obama to extend its freeze of Jewish construction in exchange for U.S. weapons.


Officials said the Obama offer was discussed over the last two weeks by envoys of the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with senior U.S. administration representatives. They said both Netanyahu as well as Defense Minister Ehud Barak agreed that the Obama offer was vague and insufficient to win Cabinet support.

"There was nothing hard about what the U.S. was offering," an official said.

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The officials said Barak and Netanyahu's envoy, Yitzhak Molcho, spent nearly a week in Washington in discussions over Obama's offer to extend the Israeli freeze of Jewish construction in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Under the U.S. offer, the extension would last 60 days without renewal in exchange for U.S. military and political support, including temporary Israeli retention of the Jordan Valley under any peace accord with the Palestinian Authority.

Barak, regarded as the Cabinet member closest to the United States, was said to have spent hours trying to pin senior White House officials Dennis Ross and Daniel Shapiro on details of the proposed military aid. But officials said Barak received little more than vague assurances that Israel would maintain its qualitative strategic edge over its Arab neighbors.

"In the end, Barak concluded that Obama had not authorized his key people to make any specific promises," the official said.

At a later stage in the negotiations, officials said, the White House revised its offer and warned of U.S. support for hostile United Nations resolutions should Israel resume construction. They said Obama's representatives also stipulated that any additional U.S. military and political assistance would come only as part of a final agreement with the Palestinians.

In late September, the administration leaked details of the draft letter to David Makovsky, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and regarded as close to Ross. Makovsky, who did not publish the draft letter, said the White House pledged to provide Israel with unidentified missile systems, the Joint Strike Fighter, missile defense batteries and satellites.

"The Obama administration realizes that these needs would mean an unspecified increase in U.S. security assistance to Israel once a peace agreement is concluded," Makovsky said.

Officials said Barak and Molcho reiterated that the Netanyahu government would not approve massive construction in Jerusalem or the West Bank. But the two Israelis reiterated that the Cabinet would not accept the formal extension of the construction freeze without solid and specific guarantees of military and political support.

Under Obama, the administration has frozen virtually all combat military platforms and systems to Israel, including those approved by then-President George Bush in 2007 and 2008. Officials cited Washington's refusal to deliver advanced airborne munitions, buster-bunkers, attack helicopters and upgrades as well as air transports.

One example cited by officials was Obama's permission in the spring of 2010 to sell Israel one C-130J advanced air transport, manufactured by Lockheed Martin. Bush, with congressional approval, had granted an Israeli request to purchase nine such aircraft.

On Sept. 29, Ross and Shapiro told congressional Democrats that the U.S. offer contained the sale of aircraft, missiles and satellites to Israel. The two officials also said Washington would help establish a regional security regime to protect Israel from both a Palestinian state in the West Bank as well as Iran.

Officials said Israel's government had assessed that Obama would have used the two-month freeze extension to pressure Israel into signing a formal agreement for a full withdrawal from the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem. They said the White House has already relayed portions of the agreement to Israel, but U.S. efforts have been blocked by the PA refusal to offer political and security guarantees to the Jewish state.

"Obama wants to replace the lack of a PA agreement with U.S. political and military guarantees instead," another Israeli official said. "This would not be a peace agreement, but an agreement with the United States, which would decide our security."

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