November 6, 2005

Israel says back aboard US warplane project

By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The United States has re-admitted
Israel to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program after the two
allies resolved a dispute over Israeli arms exports to China,
Israel's defense minister said on Sunday.

Citing concern for Taiwan's security, the Pentagon curbed
the Israeli role in the JSF earlier this year.

The move threatened the Jewish state's place among partner
nations in the biggest warplane program ever, who could have
first right to buy the fighter-bomber jets due out next decade.

"Israel is continuing to be involved in the JSF project as
an esteemed and important partner," Defense Minister Shaul
Mofaz told Israel Radio following fence-mending talks in

"The United States has reaffirmed its commitment to sell
the JSF aircraft to Israel," he said. Asked if the arms export
dispute was over, Mofaz said: "The answer is yes."

The Pentagon was angered by what it considered an upgrading
of spare parts for China's fleet of Israeli-supplied Harpy
attack drones. Israel denied wrongdoing, but media reports said
Mofaz scrapped the Harpy deal and tightened export policies.

The United States and Israel have been odds for years over
advanced technology transfers to China. Washington fears the
sales could tilt the balance of power and make it more
difficult to defend Taiwan, which Beijing deems a renegade

Some Israeli analysts say they believe the United States
also seeks to keep foreign competition to its arms firms in

Israel gets $2.8 billion in annual aid from Congress, most
of its in the form of grants that are spent on U.S. military

Israel is currently seeking an additional $2 billion to
help cover its recent Gaza withdrawal, a move Washington hopes
will help restart peace talks with the Palestinians.

The JSF, which is being developed by Lockheed Martin Corp.,
has with eight other foreign partners who have already put up
funds: Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada,
Australia, Denmark and Norway.

In 2003, Israel signed a letter of intent to contribute an
estimated $50 million to the JSF.

In 2000, Israel canceled a planned sale to China of the
Phalcon airborne early-warning radar system under U.S.

Israel said earlier this year that Washington was also
seeking oversight on its lucrative defense exports to India.