Further, the U.S. has proposed signing a new defense treaty with Israel if a peace accord with the Palestinians can be achieved.
Western defense sources tell Aviation Week that the offer was initially presented to Israel in September, at the time when the previous 10-month moratorium on settlements was about to expire, but was rejected by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The offer was renewed by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a seven-hour meeting with Netanyahu in New York on Nov. 11. It is assumed that Clinton demanded, in addition to the moratorium, that Israel will accept the U.S. guidelines for the negotiations with the Palestinians and will remove some of the objections that have stalled the peace process so far.
As part of its efforts to revitalize stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, the U.S. government is widely reported to be suggesting it may provide Tel Aviv 20 additional F-35s if it halts new building construction in the West Bank.
Palestinians cite the construction efforts as the main barrier to resuming negotiations.
While the U.S. State Department has refused to comment on the matter this week, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak confirmed that such an offer was made by the U.S. “In the past, we wanted to procure 40 F-35s, but due to budget constraints we could only afford 20,” he said. “Now the U.S. is offering to give us the additional 20 in exchange for a 90-day freeze on settlements.”
But apparently Netanyahu has asked to receive the U.S. offer in a presidential letter that he would put before the Israeli cabinet, a move that stirred opposition from his own party and other coalition partners. “Twenty fighters are much more important in the long term than the current political friction between Netanyahu and his party members,” says Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, frequently a political rival to Netanyahu.
Without commenting directly on the U.S. offer, Israel air force commander, Maj. Gen. Ido Nachoshtan, notes that “the F-35s will provide us a significant strategic capability. They have a key role in the building of Israel’s air force in the face of a developing arena.”
In October, Israel signed a $2.75 billion contract to buy a first squadron of 20 F-35As, to be financed through U.S. foreign military aid funds. The aircraft are due to be delivered in 2015-17.
“The U.S. offer to provide additional fighters for free is an offer we cannot refuse,” a senior defense source told Aviation Week. However, if Israel will accept the offer, the new fighters will be delivered only by the end of the decade, and will be irrelevant to any imminent conflict with Iran.
As of mid-November, the U.S. presidential letter of commitment had yet to be received in Israel.