Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi and Barack Obama may soon be engaged in a "dog fight" over Israel.
The competition aimed at selecting a new advanced trainer for the Israeli air force (IAF) already has inputs that are not directly connected to the quality and capabilities of the two potential aircraft.
The request for information (RFI) for an advanced trainer for the IAF has been issued to KAI from South Korea and to Alenia Aermacchi from Italy. One is making the T-50 the other one the M-346 .
It is a known fact that manufacturers of main military platforms like very much to have Israel in their selected client list. The Israeli defence forces, including of course the IAF, have gained lots of combat experience and that is a good selling point for the manufacturers when they try to persuade other customers. "The Israelis operate it" is a sentence frequently heard in rooms where negotiations about new contracts are being held. It works almost in all cases.
Silvio understands the impact of a deal with Israel on the Italian company, and the US administration also does not like the idea of breaking the tradition that all IAF platforms are American made directly or indirectly like in this case.
Silvio has brought the issue up when he met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last year. Obama is probably using the "special relations" with Israel to keep the tradition.
The IAF is still evaluating and the decision is expected later this year. Experts familiar with the competition say that both contenders have gained good scores in the evaluation process. Will other considerations be put in the final equation?
International politics are a very twisted issue and sometimes you cannot be sure what the outcome is of seemingly simple set of facts.
But there is another twist in that plot - even if the selected trainer is the one that is made by KAI with inputs from Lockheed Martin, the purchase will not be made using the US foreign military financing (FMF). The plan is that a consortium of two Israeli companies will purchase the trainers and sell flight hours to the IAF. Confused? Nobody claimed that Israel is a simple place.