KILLING THE MERKAVA
IS LIKE KILLING THE LAVI

By Emanuel A. Winston,
Middle East Analyst & Commentator

If there ever was one clincher that Barak is in the U.S. pocket, it was the recent announcement that Israel would cancel the building of its own famous Merkava Battle Tank to purchase the American Abrams M1A1 Tank. This decision was tentatively announced by Chief of Staff Gen. Shaul Mofaz as a budget cutting measure - or so the story goes.

The Merkava was built as a superior fighting vehicle whose first priority was to protect its crew. The Merkava was created and built by Maj. Gen. Israel Tal whose vision of a tank as a combination of rumbling destruction and something a Jewish mother could love succeeded. Every component of the Merkava plays a role to insulate the crew from hostile attack as well as enhance the comfort of the crew, creating a vehicle conducive to high morale and "fightability". This Jewish juggernaut fought and conquered the dreaded Soviet T-72 tank, which the U.S. and Europe thought was unbeatable. To their astonishment in Lebanon, 1982, the Merkava with its 105mm cannon and special Israeli-made kinetic energy shells destroyed the Soviet's prized technology. (1)

The Merkava Mark 3 appeared on Independence Day May 1989. It is now modular, meaning that more than 50% of the Mark 3 protection system is modular and can be upgraded as improvements are made. The 105 mm canon is now a 120 mm. smooth bore, plus 3 machine guns. Apart from the engine, all major systems and components in the Mark 3 were developed and produced in Israel. Delivery of the Merkava Mark 3 began March 1990. It was considered the most advanced of all present generation Main Battle Tanks. (2)

The Israeli Merkava Tank has out performed the American Abrams hands down, a critical fact which has remained unannounced for a long time. For several years there have been field trials where the Merkava units vied with the Abrams units in field competition. This included firing on the move, night operations, survival, accuracy for rounds fired, etc.

The results were embarrassingly and consistently unbalanced and thus were never made public. The Merkava outperformed the Abrams in every way that a battle tank can be tested. Electronics, tank hours without repair, survivability under fire, suspension stability, engine life - but, it all came down to competition in simulated combat field maneuvers. The Merkava Tanks with their Israeli team beat the Abrams' American teams hands down. So, what's going on?

Israel, under Ehud Barak has, indeed become a banana republic. The American arms industry has ordered Israel to stand down her capability in developing and manufacturing anything that competes with U.S. sales. This has been going on for a long time. These hungry American industries have ruthlessly attempted to crush, even destroy, any competitor in a shrinking arms market. True, they can't step on Russia, France, England but they can direct a Bill Clinton and the State Department to threaten a small friend, now acting like a banana republic on a short leash.

In 1986 the political military/industrial complex killed off Israel's operative prototype of her Lavi aircraft which was a dual purpose air superiority jet fighter as well as a close ground support aircraft. The Lavi was cheaper per plane, about $15.5-17 million compared to at least $45 million each [by 1994] for the F16 including spare parts, the closest comparable American plane. (3) The Lavi was capable of fulfilling both missions which neither the American nor the European planes were able to achieve - even up to today. [See articles by Emanuel Winston about the Lavi - information following:] (4)

While still in R&D, the Lavi employed 4000 Israelis and 736 American subcontractors employed many thousands more. At the time Rep. Charles Wilson, Dem.-TX, said the Lavi "will help Israel stop her dependency on the U.S. as Israel learns to rely on her own high technological infrastructure." Then Defense Sec. Caspar Weinberger (under pressure from General Dynamics who manufacturers the F-16) blocked the technology transfer licenses required by the American companies bidding for Lavi contracts on the composite wings, engine and fly-by-wire system. Israel's Sec. of Defense Moshe Arens (called the father of the Lavi), called Sec. of State George Shultz for help and within 48 hours the licenses were approved. Regrettably, it didn't help because the decision to eliminate the competitive Lavi had already been made.

The story behind the cancellation of the Lavi is instructive today. At the time in 1985, Congress was in favor of Israel building the Lavi because of the jobs created in America since so many sub-contractors were involved in the co-production with Israel. It was the forces behind the military-industrial complex who engineered the Lavi's demise.

Dov Zakheim, representing General Dynamics for Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, convinced some influentials in Israel to lobby against the Lavi. These Israelis claimed it was too difficult, too expensive, too high, too much for ‘little' Israel. [This is called the "Rosh Katan" (little head) syndrome.] Pushed by Zakheim, they lobbied heavily in the Israeli media and Cabinet members.

Before Israel's final decision-making Cabinet meeting, the U.S. Congress had voted to appropriate the next year's funds for the Lavi. When the Rabin/Peres Cabinet voted the Lavi down by one vote, the U.S. Congress felt justifiably betrayed. I believe that from that point on the faith and confidence the outside world held for Israel's ability to produce and deliver high level equipment diminished. Several of Israel's major weapons' were canceled, ordered canceled... etc., one after another.

Ultimately America could have been the greatest beneficiary of the Lavi. Co-production of the fighter made good sense. The Lavi concept was initiated as a direct result of Soviet missiles that downed more than 100 aircraft in the first 72 hours of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Three prototypes of the Lavi were actually built and flew. The Lavi was lighter than the F-16, 10% faster on the deck; her radar cross-section was smaller; she carried a heavier load of weapons and fuel; she had avionics that proved their superiority in the Lebanon war; she flew farther; had a smaller turning circle and could take out air superiority aircraft. The Lavi was also configured as a "hot trainer" that becomes operational at the flip of a switch. In tests against the American F-16, the Lavi out-performed the F-16.

From the 1967 French embargo on all weapons' sales to Israel, when France was Israel's primary arms supplier, Israel decided that, for her own survival, she must be able to produce on her own, at least one tank, one naval vessel, one missile from each family, and one fighter plane.

Many countries tried to design a close-ground-support (CAS) aircraft with high survivability in a missile-infested environment. But, they weren't even at a prototype stage and no CAS was expected to be available until 2000-2025. Then the cost estimate was $30 million each, which has since skyrocketed. The U.S. alone needed 300-500 planes.

To maintain air superiority into the 21st century, the U.S. may spend $950 Billion for 650 F-22s, the new fighter aircraft. It will possess Star Trek electronics, Mach 2 sprint speed and nearly invisible to radar. Then Defense Sec. Dick Cheney was responsible for development of the F-22. (5)

The Japanese introduced their FSX (Fighter Support Experimental) fighter in 1995, with production costs for 70-130 aircraft expected to surpass $100 million each. (6) All have surpassed their estimated production costs and none can perform the dual role as the Lavi did.

The same powers-that-be in America killed off the Phalcon sale to China, knowing that Russia can and is now selling China a comparable aircraft to serve the same function. ‘They' claimed that the Phalcon would enable China to target American planes or ships who were assisting Taiwan against a Chinese attack and, therefore, would be used against American soldiers. They lobbied very heavily to convince Congress that the Phalcon sale by Israel to China was dangerous to American soldiers.

However, eliminating the Phalcon and encouraging the Russian substitute provided no actual benefit to American in defending Taiwan, nor did killing off the Phalcon eliminate a threat against American aircraft or ships. In fact, China, using Russian surveillance aircraft, also links into Russian satellite surveillance, doubling the threat to U.S. defenders.

Stopping Israel's sale of the Phalcon merely stifled Israel's defense industry in all its component technology used for development of surveillance aircraft. This was the intent of the Clinton White House, the U.S. State Department and Pentagon who support America's military-industrial complex. (6) That sale was for as many as 7 Phalcon AWACS type planes at $250 million each, therefore, potentially worth $1.75 Billion.

Israeli officials fear the U.S. will also shoot down (and probably has) India's request to purchase 2 Phalcon reconnaissance aircraft from IAI (Israel Aircraft Industries) for $250 million each. (8)

The U.S. has also successfully canceled an Israeli/Russian sale to Turkey of 145 helicopters worth $4.5 Billion dollars to Israel. Bell Helicopter will be the likely beneficiary. Similarly, Turkey canceled their order to receive satellite photos from Israel's Ofek Satellite in deference to U.S. orders, to benefit American satellite companies. (9)

How will Israel ever reach economic and military self-sufficiency if her biggest friend keeps undermining her development and sales of defense equipment? How will Israel ever be able to achieve peace in what remains as a hostile neighborhood if she is dependent upon a friend and supplier who sells her self-declared adversaries the same and even more advanced equipment in greater total quantity and perhaps superior quality? And WHY has America assumed this double role of restricting Israel's sales and development?

Israel has more highly educated and technically proficient minds per capita than almost any other country. Israel's defense industries and innovative creativity could be excellent partners with America in all fields of endeavor, saving money and time in man-hours of R&D - IF these talents were encouraged instead of stifled.

The U.S. has announced a $900 million arms deal with Egypt and a $500 million deal with Saudi Arabia. Included is the improvement of 35 Apache helicopters and sale of advanced detection equipment for the Egyptian Air Force's F16 planes. Saudi Arabia will receive 500 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles, while Kuwait has purchased $190 million of artillery and tank ammunition. (10)

The proposed sale to Egypt will upgrade its anti-armor day/night missile capability by upgrading 35 AH-64A to AH-64D model attack helicopters, including 35 Target Acquisition Designation Sight/Pilot Night Vision Sensors (TADS/PNVS) plus 2 spares and extra repair parts, support equipment and technical documentation, U.S. quality assurance teams, training of personnel, U.S. government and contractor technical support and logistics support. (11)

Saudi Arabia will receive 500 AIM-120C Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missiles (AMRAAM), LAU-128 missile launchers, Captive Air Training Missiles, spare and repair parts, technical documentation, maintenance and pilot training, and other logistical support to enhance the air-to-air defense capability of its F-15 fleet. The proposed sale of this equipment and support technology is claimed by the State Department to NOT affect the basic military balance in the region. (12) These biased assurances cannot be comforting to Israel who has fought 6 wars with these same nations who intended to annihilate the Jewish State.

Clinton and Company have insisted on having oversight over any sales or negotiations which Israel may be engaged in with any of 27 nations which the U.S. considers a threat to their business interests. This advance knowledge, of course, would allow U.S. arms manufacturers to then put in their lower bid, undercutting any other Israeli bid by the use of America's easy access to long term credit.

I wonder why Clinton hasn't made this demand of Russia or France? I wonder why Israel doesn't get the same privilege of assessing similar threats when America's military/industrial complex sells missiles and combat aircraft, AWACS radar aircraft, etc. to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Oman, Kuwait, Jordan and perhaps, later Syria?

Of course, it is fair business practice to use every advantage over your competitors. However, Israel is called America's close friend and ally as the only democratic country in the Middle East. And, Israel's defense industries purchase countless parts and full assemblies of parts from American manufacturers. Israel is required to spend almost all of the military aid she receives from America in America. Therefore, most of Israel's military/defense output produces hundreds of thousands of jobs in America, creating a tremendous force multiplier of benefits to the American military/industrial complex.

The U.S. State Department and Pentagon (the voice of the arms' industries) invariably release statements which shrug off any threat to Israel, claiming the particular sale in question won't shift the balance of power against Israel. This is a blatant lie. The U.S. is now proposing to sell "Block 60" F-16s to Arab countries, a plane so advanced that it exceeds everything in the U.S. and Israeli Air Forces. (13)

However, during a May 20, 1993 press conference with the American Jewish Press Association, when he was Israel's Chief of Staff, Gen. Ehud Barak said: "Israel's qualitative edge has disappeared as the West arms the Arabs with top-of-the-line planes, tanks and missiles - the same models Israel receives in much smaller numbers. Israel can't afford to maintain present defense levels and has cut its defense budget from 15% of the GDP to 9%; in dollars from $7.2 Billion to $5.8 Billion and going down." (14)

The old adage of: "Why don't you pick on someone your own size?" clearly doesn't apply to small friends of the U.S. like Israel. It doesn't represent the true spirit of the American people and their support of a free and safe Israel. But, it does represent itself much the same as the multi-national oil industry. This psychological weakness of greed may effectively hide behind the American flag but it will still crush any friendly nation that gets in its way - if it can. It simply picks up the phone to the President or the State Department and sets them into motion. It's nice to have friends in high places, particularly when they are grateful for large campaign contributions.

Barak, like Yitzhak Rabin when he agreed to scuttle the Lavi for the sake of U.S. interests, will now kill off what many say is the best tank in the world. Barak will also squelch all the sub-development industries that support construction of the Merkava Tank, just as Rabin was ordered to kill off all the hundreds of industries that were burgeoning around the Lavi. Israel was simply supposed to continue in her role as a supplicant or client, purchasing only what U.S. industries offered and in no way was Israel to try and manufacture for herself.

Israel's armament industry has simply shown too much promise, too much initiative, too much creative development. She has become a player even though she ranks as far down on the list of world arms' suppliers so that she's off the charts and no real challenge to U.S. sales. Naturally, the U.S. ranks first. Being first is good for business but since America's real competitors are Russia, France, England, and Germany, why crush the excellent weapons' capabilities of such a small competitor. The answer may be that Israel is the only competitor under American control and small enough to step on.

Some Congressmen have expressed concern when the U.S. sold, or rather gifted, $25 Billion American taxpayers' dollars to Egypt to buy U.S. equipment, making Egypt the military colossus of the Middle East and a powerful threat to Israel.

Congress expressed even greater concern when Clinton tried to arrange a deal with Syria where Clinton would gift $30 Billion dollars which would come back to the U.S. arms industry in the sales of aircraft, missiles, tanks, etc. Unknown to the public, this is an actual transfer of American tax dollars through the loop of foreign sales which literally comes back to support the arms industries. It is a sweet arrangement. In effect, American tax dollars go directly to the U.S. arms industries so that weapons can be gifted to such nations as Egypt to, presumably, influence foreign policy. (Blackmail by equipment rarely works.)

As for the matter of the Merkava tank, clearly the intent is to eliminate this superb Israeli battle tank so that the manufacturing line for the U.S. M1A1Abrams can stay open and profitable. Like the Lavi when it was killed off so the old F16 line could stay open, the Merkava is now targeted for the junk yard.

Ehud Barak has become Clinton's boy toy in all ways and in all things. Once you accept black money to achieve high office, you become the money-givers' plaything. America has no need to crush a small ally's arms industry. But, the U.S. arms industry which operates like a separate nation wants every sale it can beg, borrow or steal.

Israel has become an extraordinary resource for the development of technology. The arms industry would like to keep it limited to what amounts to a captured resource of brains, slaved to its own sales. Regrettably, corrupt leaders like Barak, Rabin, Peres and Beilin have allowed Israel to slide into the category of a begging Banana Republic. I cannot help but wonder if Congress is in agreement with this process of insuring that Israel remains dependent upon U.S. aid forever.

NOTES:

1. "Tank A Jewish Mother Could Love" by Emanuel A. Winston ISRAEL TODAY 12/12/83

2. "Merkava, Mark 3 - A Milestone in Tank Design" by Shlomo Baum, z'l BULLETIN of the JERUSALEM INSTITUTE for WESTERN DEFENSE January 1990

3. "Lockheed Offers Israel Longer Range F-16" by Barbara Opall U.S. DEFENSE NEWS 1/10/94

4. By Emanuel A. Winston Regarding the Lavi:

"Building Israel's Front-Line of Defense" SENTINEL 9/11/96

"Lavi: A Look Ahead, A Leap Forward: Co-Production of Fighter Makes Good Sense for America, Israel" U.S. DEFENSE NEWS April 6,1987

"Israel's Lavi Fighter: Good for America, Too: Israeli Innovation, American Genius: A Partnership" U.S. DEFENSE NEWS 7/13/87 & JERUSALEM POST 7/16/87

"Rejection of Lavi Haunts U.S. in Gulf" U.S. DEFENSE NEWS February 11, 1991

5. "F-22 = $95 Billion" by Leslie Gelb NEW YORK TIMES 5/22/91

6. "A New Warplane's Murky Horizon: Controversy & Costs Dog Plans for Joint U.S.-Japan et Fighter" by Andrew Pollack NEW YORK TIMES 1/13/95

7. "Selling Arms to israel's Enemies" by Emanuel Winston JEWISH PRESS May 25, 2000

8. "India is Interested in Purchasing 2 Phalcon Reconnaissance Aircraft: U.S. Opposition Expected" by Yossi Melman & Amos Harel HA'ARETZ July 23, 2000

9. "U.S. Defeats Israel in $4.5 Billion Helicopter Deal with Turkey" by Amnon Barzilai HA'ARETZ 7/23/00

10 "U.S. to Supply Advanced Arms to Egypt & Saudi Arabia: Says Sale Won't Hurt Balance" by Amnon Barzilai HA'ARETZ 7/23/00

11. "Proposed Foreign Military Sale to Egypt Announced" U.S. Department of Defense - Public Affairs # 424-00 July 20, 2000

12. "Proposed Foreign Military Sale to Saudi Arabia Announced" U.S. Department of Defense - Public Affairs #428-00 July 20, 2000

13. "U.S. to Sell F-16 More Advanced than its Own" by Jim Wolf REUTERS 3/14/00

14. "Barak Quotes U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff on Borders" by Gail Winston JEWISH PRESS 1/26/96

=========

Emanuel A. Winston is a Middle East Commentator and research associate of the Freeman Center For Strategic Studies.



 HOME  Maccabean  comments