Country Listing

Israel Table of Contents



The military partnership between the United States and Israel was by 1988 a flourishing relationship that encompassed not only military assistance but also intelligence sharing, joint weapons research, and purchases of Israeli equipment by the United States armed forces. During the early years of Israeli independence, the United States had been reluctant to become a major source of arms, a position dictated by the view that the United States could best contribute to resolving the Arab-Israeli dispute by avoiding identification with either party to the conflict. The United States continued to deal with Israeli arms requests on a case-by-case basis until the October 1973 War, when it became virtually the sole outside source of sophisticated weaponry. The high level of United States aid was intended to insure that Israel maintained the capability to defend itself against any potential combination of aggressors and to give Israel the confidence to enter into negotiations with its Arab neighbors.

Israel had great difficulty in obtaining the modern arms it needed until the mid-1950s, when France became its main supplier. Even after the announcement of a major arms agreement between Egypt and Czechoslovakia in 1955, the United States was unmoved by the argument that this development justified deliveries to Israel to maintain a balance of forces in the Middle East. It did, however, relax its stance by authorizing the transfer to Israel of Mystère IV fighter planes manufactured in France with United States assistance and F-86 Sabre jets manufactured in Canada under United States license. In 1958 the United States consented to a modest sale of 100 recoilless rifles to help Israel defend itself from neighbors receiving shipments of both Soviet- and Western-made tanks.

Sales of Hawk antiaircraft missiles in 1962 and M-48 Patton tanks in 1966 represented a shift in policy, but were justified as "occasional, selective sales" to balance the large shipments of sophisticated Soviet arms to Egypt, Syria, and Iraq. A more decisive turn in United States policy occurred in 1968 when, following the failure of efforts to reach an understanding with the Soviet Union on limiting the supply of arms to the Middle East and the imposition of a complete embargo by France on arms sales to Israel, Washington approved the sale of fifty F-4 Phantom jets.

By the early 1970s, the flow of United States military supplies to Israel had acquired considerable momentum, although it was not always considered sufficient by Israeli leaders concerned with Egypt's aggressive actions along the Suez Canal. In 1972 and 1973, the Israeli air force was bolstered by additional deliveries of F-4 aircraft as well as A-4 Skyhawks. After the outbreak of the October 1973 War, President Richard M. Nixon ordered the airlift of urgently needed military supplies to Israel. President Nixon followed this action by seeking from Congress US$2.2 billion in emergency security assistance including, for the first time, direct aid grants. By 1975 a steady flow of aircraft, Hawk missiles, self-propelled artillery, M-48 and M-60 tanks, armored personnel carriers, helicopters, and antitank missiles enabled Israel to recover from the heavy equipment losses suffered during the war. For the first time, the United States government approved the sale to Israel of more advanced F-15 and F-16 interceptor aircraft.

In conjunction with the IDF redeployment following the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty of 1979, the United States provided US$3.2 billion in special aid. More than one-third of this amount was used to finance the construction of two airbases in the Negev, replacing three bases evacuated in the Sinai. Egypt also benefited from a vastly increased level of aid; but Israel sharply disputed Washington's later package proposal to sell US$4.8 billion worth of aircraft to Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. Israel's objections to the delivery of sophisticated fighter aircraft to Saudi Arabia grew stronger when the United States decided in 1981 to allow Saudi Arabia to purchase airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft.

In 1983 the United States and Israel established the Joint Political-Military Group (JPMG) to address the threat to American and Israeli military interests in the Middle East posed by the Soviet Union. The JPMG contemplated joint military planning, combined exercises, and the prepositioning of United States military equipment in Israel. In the same year, the United States agreed to assist Israel in constructing its own Lavi fighter aircraft by furnishing technology, engines, flight controls, and other components. Although the United States was committed to contribute US$1.75 billion to the Lavi, the project was cancelled in 1987 under United States pressure (with considerable support from senior Israeli officers) because of cost overruns that were causing unacceptable strains to the entire Israeli defense program.

As part of the growing military partnership, aircraft from United States Navy aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean used Israeli bombing ranges in the Negev; Israel loaned the United States older Kfir fighters with characteristics similar to the Soviet MiG-21 to use for combat training; antiterrorist teams from the two countries trained together; and joint submarine exercises were held. Israel also participated in advanced weapons research programs. In 1986 the United States granted Israel the right, along with Britain and West Germany, to compete for subcontracts for the Strategic Defense Initiative. In 1988 the United States announced that it would provide Israel US$120 million to continue research on the Hetz antiballistic missile system. Purchases of Israeli products by the United States Department of Defense (including bridge-laying equipment, mine-laying and mine-clearing systems, and electronic and communications items) amounted to more than US$200 million in 1986.

Israel benefited more than any other country from United States military assistance, at a level of approximately US$1.8 billion annually in the mid- and late 1980s. Only Egypt (US$1.3 billion in 1988) approached this sum. Military aid to Israel, which had been in the form of both grant aid and military sales on concessional credit terms, changed to an all-grant form beginning in United States fiscal year (FY) 1985 (see table 15, Appendix A). The US$1.2 billion provided each year in economic aid enabled Israel to service the foreign debt incurred by past purchases of military matériel. United States assistance accounted for more than one-third of all Israeli defense spending during this period. Nevertheless, in terms of purchasing power, the level of direct military aid was less than the US$1 billion received in 1977.

In spite of the intimate degree of cooperation in the military sphere, discord occasionally arose over the purposes to which United States equipment had been applied. Under the terms of military assistance agreements, Israel could use the equipment only for purposes of internal security, for legitimate self-defense, or to participate in regional defense, or in UN collective security measures. Israel also agreed not to undertake aggression against any other state. The United States condemned the Israeli air strike against Iraq's Osiraq (acronym for Osiris-Iraq) nuclear research installation near Baghdad in 1981 using F-16 aircraft escorted by F-15s. A pending shipment of F-16s was suspended for a time and the suspension was extended when the Israeli air force bombed PLO targets in West Beirut, resulting in significant civilian casualties. The United States lifted the ban after a few months without a formal finding as to whether Israel had violated its commitments by using United States-supplied aircraft on the two raids.

The United States objected to Israel's use of cluster bombs during Operation Litani, its incursion into Lebanon in 1978. A commitment was obtained from Israel that it would restrict the use of cluster bombs that cast lethal projectiles over a wide area to "hard" targets. In 1982, however, the United States held up further deliveries of the bombs when it learned that they were being used in the invasion of Lebanon. In 1986, with the embargo still in force, the United States launched an investigation into the unapproved sale of equipment by private American firms enabling Israel to manufacture the bombs.

In addition to cooperation on matériel, cooperation between the two countries on intelligence matters had begun in the early 1960s, when Israel furnished the United States with captured Soviet missiles, antitank weapons, and artillery shells for evaluation and testing. The United States shared reconnaissance satellite data with Israel, although after Israel apparently used satellite photographs to aid in targeting the Osiraq reactor, the data reportedly were limited to information useful only for defensive purposes relating to Arab military deployments on or near Israel's borders. In September 1988, however, Israel announced that it had launched its own scientific satellite which was to be followed by other satellites in orbits characteristic of observation satellites.

Data as of December 1988

Country Listing

Israel Table of Contents