Last August 14 the Wall Street Journal reported that, in July, after Israel had launched Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, Washington had surprised Israel by turning down an Israeli request for “a large number of Hellfire missiles.” Hellfires are an important air-to-surface precision weapon, suited to the kind of warfare Israel was waging against Hamas and other terror groups in Gaza.
But as Amir Rapaport, a veteran Israeli military-affairs writer and editor of theIsrael Defense site, now reports:
The full truth…is much more severe: apparently, during Operation Protective Edge, the USA had completely stopped all connections with Israel’s defense procurement delegation based in the USA. For days, no item whatsoever could be shipped. The expected airlift of US ammunition had never even arrived at its point of departure.
The crisis began about ten days into Operation Protective Edge, pursuant to allegations that the percentage of uninvolved civilian deaths in the Gaza Strip was extremely high (IDF admitted that about one half of all Palestinian deaths were probably civilians who had not been involved in the fighting).
At that stage, the Israeli defense establishment submitted to the USA a request for various types of munitions, including Hellfire missiles, to replenish the dwindling inventories of IDF….
The order to stop the processing of all Israeli requests came from a senior echelon—probably the White House, among other reasons, because Israel had ignored the initiatives of Secretary of State John Kerry and preferred to end the operation through a direct channel with the Egyptians. The State Department had been annoyed with Israel for several months, since it was revealed that Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon had referred to Kerry as “Messianic” in closed sessions.
No less than three reasons are given here for Washington’s ire toward Israel. Regarding the first—the allegedly high Palestinian civilian casualties—an ongoing study by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Information Center has found, so far, that the death rate was indeed about 50%-50% between Palestinian combatants and civilians. This compares favorably with ratios of three civilians killed for every one combatant in Afghanistan, and four civilians for every one combatant in Iraq and in Kosovo.
As for Israel’s “ignor[ing]” of Kerry’s “initiatives,” those initiatives entailed negotiating a ceasefire with Hamas through the good offices of Turkey and Qatar—a move that was staunchly opposed by both Israel and Egypt because Turkey and Qatar are patently pro-Hamas actors.
And as for Yaalon dubbing Kerry “messianic,” he did so in the context of Kerry’s attempted Israeli-Palestinian peace process in which U.S. political and military officials had usurped Yaalon’s authority as Israeli defense minister by intensively planning an Israeli military retreat from the Jordan Valley—a step that Yaalon views as incompatible with Israel’s security.
In any case, Rapaport calls the munitions cutoff a “major trauma in US-Israeli relations” that has already had repercussions. Among other impacts, he reports that
within the Israeli defense establishment, this recent affair has led to a reassessment of the almost automatic reliance on an airlift of ammunition from the USA as a part of practically every wartime scenario.
Among the measures currently under consideration is…a massive transition to Israeli-made munitions. For example, the Hellfire missiles the Americans failed to deliver may be replaced by IAI [Israel Aerospace Industries] missiles, while precision guided munitions by Rafael may replace US-made air-to-surface munitions. Since Operation Protective Edge, Israeli defense industries have already received urgent procurement orders for arms and munitions worth billions of NIS.
Rapaport notes, however, that
the arms issue was resolved toward the end of Operation Protective Edge and…despite the recent events, the strategic defense relations between the two countries continue even now, including extensive intelligence cooperation. US DOD [Department of Defense] and IMOD [Israel Ministry of Defense] are also proceeding with numerous joint research and development projects and US defense aid will remain a substantial element of the Israeli defense budget, which enables Israel to acquire such extremely costly systems as the F-35 future fighter aircraft. The Americans have also increased their support for the Iron Dome project during Operation Protective Edge….
All in all, this episode may signal a major learning experience for Israel and a step toward its maturation as a country: the realization that, while the United States is a friend and ally, it is not a Big Brother to be relied on to the extent that one puts one’s fate in its hands.
By Rapaport’s account and others, the deeply institutionalized U.S.-Israeli strategic relationship is surviving and even thriving in the Obama era. But that does not mean an ideologically hostile administration like Obama’s will not exploit Israel’s dependence to punish it for perceived wrongs, even—or especially—at a time when Israel is under attack as it was from thousands of Hamas rockets last summer.
Since there may well be other such ideologically hostile or Israel-unfriendly administrations in the future, it is good to know that Israel is reassessing its “almost automatic reliance” on U.S. airlifts and considering a “massive transition to Israeli-made munitions.” It would be a lot more realistic.