"Twenty planes are of incomparable importance to momentary smiles
between Bibi and his Likud Knesset members," Defense Minister Ehud Barak,
referring to Netanyahu's nickname, said.
In a Nov. 15 interview on Army Radio, Barak relayed the first high-level
confirmation of Israeli media reports of Obama's defense package, Middle East Newsline reported. The
defense minister, regarded as the Cabinet member closest to Washington, said
Israel was forced to order only 20 F-35 fighter-jets in October 2010
because of limitations in U.S. defense aid.
"We wanted 40 planes, but because of budget cuts, we could only afford
20, at a price of three billion shekels [$815 million]," Barak said. "The
Americans are now offering to complete the deal in return for a 90-day
freeze. Furthermore, if we reach an agreement they are offering us a deal
six or seven times larger."
The United States has pledged to begin JSF delivery to Israel in 2015.
Israel has been the only foreign country to sign a Letter of Offer and
Agreement for the troubled JSF program, which has encountered major delays.
"The fact that the Americans are willing to put guarantees on the table
is a very serious achievement for the prime minister," Barak said. "The
Americans expect us to seriously discuss all of the core issues. They will
not dictate to us that by Day 60 we must solve the refugee problem and by
Day 90 we must solve the border problem, but they want there to be a real
The United States has not confirmed Obama's JSF offer to Israel. Other
senior Cabinet ministers disputed Barak's version, saying the JSF offer was
based on full agreement with the PA rather than a mere 90-day freeze.
Hours later, the State Department refused to confirm the JSF proposal.
State Department spokesman Philip Crowley, besieged by questions at his
daily briefing, would not clarify whether the 20 F-35s offered by Obama were
the same as those already ordered by Israel on Oct. 7.
"We are committed to maintaining Israel's qualitative edge in the
region, but beyond that, I am not going to comment," Crowley said.
Regardless, Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau said he doubted whether
Obama would make good on his promise. He cited pledges made by previous U.S.
administrations to Israeli leaders, including Barak himself, of extensive
military aid in exchange for withdrawal.
In 2000, Barak was said to have been promised $800 million by
then-President Bill Clinton for Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon.
Clinton left office months later and Congress did not act on the
"Whatever happened to the money they promised us then? Landau asked.