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October 17, 2014 9:59 am

Israel Local Munitions Boost May Signal Rift With U.S. Over Delays During Gaza Op

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U.S. Navy aviation ordnancemen place a Hellfire missile on an MH-60 Sea Hawk helicopter assigned to the "chargers" of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 26 for a live-fire training mission in 2011. Photo: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Scott A. Raegen/Released.

One of the lessons Israel’s defense establishment is learning from the summer’s Operation Protective Edge is to build more military armaments at home, in light of potential boycotts and politically-inspired resupply delays, Israel’s NRG News noted Friday.

Under a tight veil of secrecy, the Defense Ministry reportedly decided not to allow production of at least one sensitive weapons system on American soil, due to supply line concerns.

“The full truth, revealed here for the first time, 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,” according to the report.

The ministry has also increased production of a blue-and-white missile defense system alternative, according to the report, this, despite the fact that US defense aid helps pay for the American-made munitions, instead of the Israeli taxpayer.

As on previous occasions, such as the Lebanon War in 1982, and the Yom Kippur war in 1973, in which the US held back vital supplies in order to coax Israeli policies, the US reportedly held back shipments of Hellfire missiles, and other arms, in order to stay Israel’s hand in it’s battle against Hamas rocket crews in Gaza during the 50 days of Operation Protective Edge.

The helicopter-launched Hellfire air-to-ground rocket was instrumental in interdicting hundreds of launches, and hitting terrorist leaders, with a minimum of damage to non-combatants in the immediate vicinity.

In mid-August, the Obama administration was forced to go on the defensive regarding accusations published in The Wall Street Journal that White House and State Department officials were unaware of the Pentagon practice of transferring missiles to Israel. The newspaper further reported that Hellfire-missile transfers to Israel had been held back for further review.

The article strongly implied that President Barack Obama’s relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was at an all-time low as a result of perceptions among US officials that Israel is not doing enough to end its conflict with Hamas in Gaza, culminating in what the WSJ characterized as a “combative” phone call between Obama and Netanyahu on Aug. 13.

“I don’t think we know the facts about this incident, but it occurs against a background of considerable tension between the Obama administration and the government of Israel,” Ambassador Elliott Abrams, who served as a top national security adviser to President George W. Bush, told JNS.org. “Unfortunately, it seems that tension is growing and will not abate while the Obama team is in power.”

“This was very obviously retaliation,” said a senior official at a pro-Israel organization in Washington, D.C., on condition of anonymity. “They’re pissed off about the diplomatic spat over [Secretary of State] John Kerry’s failed cease-fire initiative, which dragged in Qatar and Turkey and extended the Gaza conflict. And so they’ve gone ahead and they have put these missiles under review.”

While the decision itself did not substantially affect Israeli security, it could indicate a major rift in security ties between Israel and the United States: what was previously assumed before Protective Edge – that Israel can always rely on the airlift of ammunition from the US in times of trouble – is no longer the case.

The crisis began ten days after the start of Protective Edge, following claims of high non-combatant fatalities in Gaza. The IDF acknowledged that about half of those killed were apparently civilians. At that point, the Israeli defense establishment had requested the United States to send different types of munitions, including Hellfire missiles, in order to replenish stocks.

The freeze frustrated the Israeli delegation, although strategic cooperation between Israel and the United States continued on other channels. The Americans even allowed the IDF to use equipment deployed in Israeli warehouses, in accordance with earlier bilateral agreements.

However, the incident has caused Israeli defense officials to reassess an near-automatic reliance on arms airlifts from the United States, as part of any war scenario.

Among the measures being considered are increasing the pre-positioning of American equipment in Israel, and boosting local production, such as Israel Aircraft Industries’ missiles in place of the Hellfire.

Next week, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and his director-general, Dan Harel, will travel to Washington for meetings with Pentagon officials.

Among the issues presumably to be discussed will be this summer’s Hellfire imbroglio.

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