update deskIsrael News

Smotrich freezes purchase of fighter squadrons from the US

The decision puts on hold deals worth a combined $9.5 billion to procure a squadron of F-15 fighter jets and a squadron of F-35 fighter jets.

Aerobatic display of the F-15 fighter jet named as Ra'am, Hebrew for "Thunder," during the IAF (Israeli army Air Force) flight course 166 graduation ceremony in the Hatzerim Air Base in the Negev Desert on June 23, 2013. Photo by Ofer Zidon/Flash90.
Aerobatic display of the F-15 fighter jet named as Ra'am, Hebrew for "Thunder," during the IAF (Israeli army Air Force) flight course 166 graduation ceremony in the Hatzerim Air Base in the Negev Desert on June 23, 2013. Photo by Ofer Zidon/Flash90.

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich has informed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of his intention to freeze the planned purchase of two fighter squadrons until the government agrees to establish a public committee that will advise on the distribution of the increased defense budget, Israel’s Globes business daily reported this week.

The decision puts on hold two deals worth a combined NIS 35 billion ($9.5 billion) to procure a squadron of F-15 fighter jets and a squadron of F-35 fighter jets from the United States.

“In a joint agreement that I spearheaded with the ministries of finance and defense regarding the amended 2024 budget, it was agreed to appoint a public committee for this purpose, which would submit its recommendations within about two months,” said Smotrich.

He claimed that since the agreement was signed earlier this year, “The Ministry of Defense has prevented the establishment of the committee while seeking to create facts on the ground that require huge budgets, including through these aircraft purchase deals.”

Smotrich’s proposed committee would include representatives of the Finance Ministry, the defense establishment, former senior officials from both sides as well as external experts. However, an agreement on the panel’s composition has yet to be reached.

The missive slammed the defense ministry’s “expectation to receive a blank check for huge amounts which have massive consequences for the economy and the quality of life of Israeli citizens, without any critical thinking, brainstorming, professional, public and government discussion.”

“Approving a deal of this magnitude without the consent of the Ministry of Finance is unprecedented, and I have no intention of approving it,” concluded Smotrich.

Israeli lawmakers approved the revised budget for 2024 last month after weeks of delay due to disagreements in the wartime government. The budget was approved with 62 Knesset members in favor and 55 against.

The March 13 bill raised the expenditure limit to 584.1 billion shekels ($157 billion)—an addition of 70 billion shekels ($19 billion) to the budget approved before the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks and ensuing war.

On Monday, CNN reported that the Biden administration is expected to authorize the sale of as many as 50 F-15 jets to the Israel Defense Forces, a deal expected to be worth more than $18 billion (67 billion shekels).

The transaction—the largest U.S. military sale to Israel since the beginning of the war, comes as Washington is also expected to notify Congress soon of a sale of precision-guided munitions kits to Israel, three sources told the broadcaster.

Biden is reportedly exploring the possibility of leveraging arms shipments to place pressure on Netanyahu to scale back the war and let more humanitarian aid into Gaza, NBC News reported earlier this year.

At the direction of the White House, the U.S. Department of Defense has been examining what weapons Jerusalem has requested that could be used as leverage, current and former officials told the outlet.

Among the weaponry under discussion are 155-mm artillery rounds and Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) bomb guidance kits, which enable the Israel Defense Forces to accurately target terrorist operatives and avoid unnecessary civilian casualties in Gaza, NBC added.

John Kirby, coordinator for strategic communications at the U.S. National Security Council, appeared to deny the report on Jan. 28, telling reporters, “There has not been a change in our policy.”

According to an Israeli official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, U.S. military aid shipments at the beginning of the war were coming “very fast,” but Jerusalem is “now finding that it’s very slow.”

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