Israeli media outlets on Saturday night were busy figuring out who was lying in the dispute between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister and Altercate Prime Minister Benny Gantz over Netanyahu’s culpability in concealing Israel’s nod to the US in the sale of F-35 stealth warplanes (Gantz Accuses, Netanyahu Denies: No Secret Negotiations on F35 Sale to UAE).
In that context, several reporters were wondering how Yedioth pundit Nachum Barne’a knew about the F-35 deal back in August if Netanyahu is claiming Israel approved the deal only last week. Reminds you of the ancient query: how does the NY Times know on Sunday what the Daily Forward would write on Monday.
An early Sunday morning News 12 report suggests that the Defense Ministry civil servants were surprised in the early fall by the coming arms deal with the Emirates, and decided to use this opportunity to strike negotiations with Washington over how much the administration is willing to pay for an Israeli approval.
In early October, Congressman Brad Schneider (D-IL) introduced bipartisan, widely-supported legislation reiterating American commitment to Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME) in the face of reports of US arms sales to the region. The new bill reiterates the requirement for Congressional consultation on arms sales to the Middle East that could impact Israel’s QME. It also would require the President to consult with the Israeli government to ensure QME concerns are settled and would require the President to submit a determination to Congress on the QME impact of a given sale within 60-days of its formal notification.
In other words, Israel will more than be asked to approve such sales – by US law it would have a virtual veto over them.
With all that in mind, the crafty leaders at the Israeli Defense Ministry set about turning lemons into refreshing lemonade. Ministry officials, including Amir Eshel, the former commander of the Israeli Air Force and today’s ministry’s Director-General, went to Washington and for a month and a half sat down with administration officials and closed a compensation package for Israel without the involvement of Netanyahu or Gantz. The package includes weapons, planes, helicopters, cyber and satellite technologies, and other highly classified and sensitive items which, they say, guarantee Israel’s supremacy for decades to come.
Netanyahu insisted on Saturday night that “there is no basis to any statement to the effect that there were some secret negotiations, or that we concealed anything. There were no such negotiations. Neither was there any condition by the UAE to Israel’s consenting to the sale of F-35s or any other weapons system, as a condition for the peace agreement. There was no such condition; therefore, no such consent was given.”
Netanyahu then took credit for the negotiations of the US aid package, saying: “After the agreement was signed, only after the agreement was signed, the Americans turned to us and said that the UAE, which had been asking all the time for the F-35, had asked us to consider the matter in a practical manner. We – I and Defense Minister Benny Gantz – sent a professional Defense Ministry delegation to Washington which intensively and continuously discussed all these issues with the Pentagon over the last three weeks.”
The PM insisted that “our consent was given only yesterday,” but that doesn’t matter. The consent was implied by sending the delegation to negotiate how much the Americans are willing to pay Israel for its support of the F-35 and other arms sales to wealthy Arab countries that vowed to repress their impulse to kill Jews.