Why is Benny Gantz in Washington?

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Despite corona, the defense establishment cannot ignore Iran and the UAE procuring F-35s.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks to IDF Home Front Command soldiers, Ashdod. September 14, 2020 (photo credit: FLASH90)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks to IDF Home Front Command soldiers, Ashdod. September 14, 2020

(photo credit: FLASH90)

Just hours after he instructed the IDF to prepare a field hospital for coronavirus patients, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz flew from one red country to another, to Washington to meet his US counterpart, Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

Gantz’s office said the whirlwind 24-hour trip would include “meetings to discuss maintaining Israel’s qualitative edge, international policy vis-à-vis Iran and strategy for stopping its expansion and entrenchment in the Middle East, as well as discussion on defense cooperation and procurement.”

The trip comes a week after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Washington to sign normalization accords with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Netanyahu was highly criticized for his trip, which took place just days before the entire country entered a second lockdown as the rate of coronavirus infections and deaths spiked.

Many wondered why the prime minister would take such a trip while hundreds of Israelis were in hospital, over 600 of whom were in serious condition with the deadly virus and over a thousand more having died.

Millions of other Israelis were struggling with the economic fallout brought about by the pandemic, with families struggling to put food on their table after they were let go from work.

Israelis were indifferent to the signing on the White House lawn, they had more immediate issues to contend with.

A week later, and several days into the second lockdown and 144 more coronavirus deaths, those same Israelis are still indifferent to Gantz flying to Washington. Others are asking why is he going…can’t he hold these talks over conference call like during the fist lockdown?

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Just as Gantz was set to land in Washington, Reuters reported that the US and the UAE hope to have an initial agreement on the sale of F-35 stealth fighter jets to the Gulf state in place by December 2nd, in time for UAE National Day.

As part of the normalization between Israel and the UAE, Abu Dhabi has made it no secret that they will procure the advanced F-35 stealth fighter. According to reports, it will also get Reaper drones and EA-18G Growlers, advanced electronic warfare planes that can jam enemy air defenses and are flown only by the US and Australia.

Though it will take years before Emirati pilots will be in the cockpit of those platforms, Israel is not willing to sit back and patiently wait before they get new platforms themselves.

Though Gantz has admitted that it’s an American prerogative to sell to whoever whatever weapons they chose, he has expressed his concern about the UAE acquiring such advanced weaponry.

Gantz has already spoken to Esper by phone following the reports that the UAE would seek to procure the F-35, so is it possible that the former chief of staff felt the need to speak to Esper face-to-face to stress the importance of Israel’s QME and demand a heavy compensation package in return?

Gantz has told The Jerusalem Post in a recent interview that Israel will retain its QME in the Middle East despite any possible deals, saying “we also make deals with the United States, and we can also get more platforms and systems. This is not a one-sided deal.”

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In recent days Gantz has met with senior military officials, including IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi as to what sort of compensation Israel should demand from Washington in return.

Israel’s Air Force is in dire need of upgrades and Gantz will likely discuss the various platforms that the IAF would like such as another F-35 squadron, F-15X fighter jets, KC-46 refuelers, Chinook or CH-53K and V-22 Osperys.

While the defense establishment has been looking at these platforms for years, Gantz will likely demand that Washington move up the orders and add in additional long-range weaponry or radar systems that had not been on the table before.

This whirlwind trip by Gantz, which will be followed by five days of self-quarantine instead of the usual 10 days, can be looked at in two ways: irresponsible to be flying away from the problems in Israel, or an opportunity which cannot be missed should Trump be voted out of office.

Either way, the topics Gantz will discuss with Esper will make sure that even when Emirati pilots are taking to the skies in F-35s, that Israel has the platforms needed to keep its superiority in the skies of the Middle East.

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