Allies to a point – the Israeli defence export dilemma

The USA is considered to be Israel’s main ally, yet again and again, it is causing Israeli industry to lose huge defence projects in third countries.

The Israeli government accepts this because the USA provides it with billions of dollars in defence aid every year, but US action has now prompted a further debate in Israel about the wisdom of letting Washington cancel the sale of its advanced defence technologies to other countries.

Last week, the USA vetoed the sale of the Israeli-developed David’s Sling rocket interceptor to Poland.

Sources say that as compensation, Rafael, the manufacturer of the system will be allowed to participate in a future US-led arms sale to Warsaw.

David’s Sling is still at least a year away from being rolled out. It is designed to shoot down heavy rockets and cruise missiles. Raytheon has teamed up with Rafael on the programme.

The system will be part of the multilayered defence system Israel is building. The first layer, dubbed Iron Dome and also developed by Rafael, is designed to intercept short-range rockets .

David’s Sling will be the second layer, with the Arrow 2 and Arrow 3 produced by Boeing and Israel Aerospace Industries the third layer for defence against ballistic missiles. David’s Sling is designed to intercept rockets with a range of 38-135nm (70-250km), but this capability will increase in the future. The system is also designed to intercept cruise missiles.

The cruise missiles intercept capability has been designed as threats are changing, according to Israeli sources.

The cancellation of the deal with Poland is not the first. In 2000, Israel had to abandon a contract to sell airborne early warning systems to China. Installed on Russian Ilyushin Il-76 transport aircraft, the aircraft were about to take off for China, when Washington vetoed the sale. Israel had to compensate China for the cancellation.

In 1987, Israel was forced to cancel its indigenous fighter aircraft programme. Three prototypes of the advanced Lavi fighter were performing test flights, when Washington put its heaviest pressure on Jerusalem. The programme was abandoned.

The latest development has now ignited again the debate over whether to give up the benefits of Foreign Military Financing and sell to other countries without the fear of a new US veto.

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