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Tuesday, November 16, 2010     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Obama offers Israel 20 additional F-35 jets
for a 90-day construction freeze

TEL AVIV — Israel has reported a U.S. offer of 20 fighter-jets for the extension of a freeze on Jewish construction in the West Bank.


Officials said President Barack Obama has promised to donate 20 Joint Strike Fighters in exchange for a 90-day freeze on Jewish construction in the West Bank.

The officials said Obama has offered much greater military aid should the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agree to a Palestinian state in the entire West Bank and parts of Jerusalem by 2012.

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"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 discussion."

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 presidential request.

"Whatever happened to the money they promised us then? Landau asked.

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