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Spanish Arms Deal with Israel Running into Domestic Opposition

The Spanish Defense Ministry’s efforts to involve Israel Aircraft Industries in a $200 million project to modernize 24 Mirage-3 combat aircraft in the Spanish air force has run into strong opposition.

Defense Minister Narciso Serra decided some time ago that two Spanish companies, Ceselsa and Casa, would put together a consortium to do the work. Ceselsa, a private firm, is cooperating with IAI and would bring the Israelis into the deal.

Casa, a state-run aircraft manufacturer, works with Marcel Dassault Industries of France, producer of the Mirage planes. Serra has proposed that Ceselsa concentrate on equipping the planes with state-of-the-art electronics systems, based on Israeli knowhow and experience, while Casa does the reconstruction work.

Casa and its powerful supporters in the government and the business community are using their influence to squeeze out any Israeli participation. Their tactic has been to warn of a loss of trade with Arab countries and to capitalize on the current widespread criticism of Israel in Spain for its behavior toward the Palestinians in the administered territories.

But aides to Defense Minister Serra said here Friday that he will not be deterred by the present campaign, which has Spanish media support. Newspapers here conceded Israel has undisputed experience modernizing the Mirage-3 planes in its own air force. But it was accumulated in past deals with South Africa and Chile, countries largely boycotted by Spain because of their repressive political regimes.

IAI, meanwhile, has prepared to open an office in Madrid.

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