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U.S. to Give Israel More F-15 Jets, Will Keep Funding Missile Research

The United States will continue to fund the Arrow antimissile project and will provide Israel with 10 more advanced F-15 fighter-bombers, U.S. Defense Secretary Dick Cheney announced here Thursday.

The defense secretary, who arrived in Israel on Wednesday for a two-day official visit, also underscored that U.S.-Israeli ties are as close as they have ever been. He spoke of America’s “unshakable commitment” to Israel’s security.

Cheney met for two hours Thursday with Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens. After a private session, the two were joined by senior Israel Defense Force officials, including the chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Ehud Barak; the U.S. ambassador to Israel, William Brown; and other U.S. officials.

At a news conference following the meetings, Cheney said he had told Arens that the United States would cover 72 percent of the costs of the second stage of research in the development of the Israeli-designed Arrow, which is known in Hebrew as the Hetz missile.

Israel will pick up the other 28 percent of the four-year project, whose total cost is estimated to be at least $340 million.

Cheney said the United States would also provide Israel with 10 additional F-15 jet fighters, taken from U.S. weapons stocks no longer needed in Western Europe. The Bush administration is doing this under authority granted by Congress last fall to provide Israel with $700 million in “drawdown” weaponry from Western Europe.

The F-15s are the older “A” and “B” models, and not the advanced F-15E, Cheney stressed at the news conference. They are air-defense weapons with limited offensive capabilities, and they are less advanced than F-15s already in Israel’s arsenal.

In Washington, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Thursday that Cheney’s promise of arms for Israel was not in conflict with Secretary of State James Baker’s criticism of Israel last week for its settlement policy.

“We have a very complex and positive relationship with Israel,” Fitzwater said. “They are a major ally and friend.”

Cheney’s announcement is an “appropriate signal” that “we intend to continue that relationship in a way that stabilizes that region,” he said.

COMMITTED TO ISRAEL’S SECURITY

Fitzwater said the arms sales to Israel also do not conflict with President Bush’s new proposal to limit arms to the Middle East.

At the State Department, spokesman Richard Boucher explained that despite the arms control initiative, the United States remains “committed to our longstanding policy to maintain the security of Israel.”

Israel considers development of the Arrow of the utmost importance.

On Wednesday, the director general of Israel’s Defense Ministry, David Ivri, told Israeli army radio that “the Arrow missile should provide protection four to 10 times better than that of the Patriot missile,” which was used to deflect Iraqi Scud missiles during the Persian Gulf War.

Ivri pointed out that Israel’s adversaries would not necessarily strike next time at civilian targets, as Iraq did during the war, but could very well choose to attack military targets, just as the United States did in its preliminary assaults on Iraqi military hardware.

“The next Scuds will not necessarily fall in Ramat Gan or Ramat Chen,” said Ivri. “There are other strategic targets.”

“We need a means that will enable us, after a surprise strike, to activate our forces en masse and effectively, so that it will not be worthwhile for whoever would want to strike a first blow to do so.

“The Arrow is meant to provide this solution,” he said. (JTA correspondent David Friedman in Washington contributed to this report.)

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