Why won’t the US sell Israel the F-22?

Israeli officials were recently upset to learn that the US plans to sell laser-guided JDAM devices (to convert ordinary munitions into ‘smart bombs’) to Saudi Arabia. In addition to the risk of the Saudi air force joining in a regional war against Israel, there is no way to prevent the transfer of these kits to other nations. The US, of course, will go ahead with the sale despite Israeli opposition.

But something else mentioned in the same article was, to me, more worrisome:

Last month, Defense Ministry Diplomatic-Military Bureau head Amos Gilad and Maj.-Gen. Ido Nehushtan, head of the IDF Planning Directorate, met with senior Pentagon officials in Washington to discuss the proposed deal and to see if it could be changed in Israel’s favor.

According to senior officials, the Israeli delegation walked away from the talks disappointed and dissatisfied. An Israeli request to acquire the F-22 [Raptor] stealth bomber – a plane that can avoid radar detection – in order to retain its qualitative edge was also turned down, the officials said.

“We were told that the plane’s sale was currently off the table,” another official said. “It does not look like that will change under this administration.” (my emphasis)

F-22 RaptorsThe US has always promised — and continues to promise — that it will maintain Israel’s qualitative military superiority in the region. And especially with Iran receiving advanced weapons and aircraft from Russia, this is more important than ever.

So why does the US not wish to sell F-22’s to Israel? Surely it must be hard to turn down orders for a plane that may cost from $100-$300 million each.

The official reason is that the US considers the possible benefits (political, military, financial) of selling weapons using advanced technology against the various negatives, especially including the possibility that the technology may find its way into the hands of enemies (the Pentagon worries a lot about future conflict with China and perhaps Russia):

Applied to the F-22, this framework yields insights regarding its exportability. First, it indicates that a limited F-22 export to America’s closest allies— Australia, Great Britain, and Canada—is reasonable. Second, an expanded export to other close allies may also be within the realm of possibility, but will ultimately depend on the level of technology protection built into the export variant. — Matthew H. Molloy, Lt Col, USAF: U.S. Military Aircraft for Sale: Crafting an F-22 Export Policy (my emphasis)

By ‘technology protection’, they mean in part limitations on access to internal software or firmware; so the buyer can fly the aircraft and use its systems, but he can’t (theoretically) determine how it works or duplicate it.

But there are also political factors in play. And this is what bothers me. The range and stealth capabilities of the F-22 make it exactly what Israel would need in the event of a conflict with Iran — or indeed any regional conflict.

It’s not outrageous to speculate that some entities with which the US has a close relationship would prefer a weaker Israel. Saudi Arabia, for example, has a great deal of influence on the administration.

How about entities with which the US does not have a close relationship, but wishes to influence concerning Iraq? Even Iran has leverage in this context. And finally, we can’t forget the circles within the US government (e.g. the State Department) which want a more pliant Israel — which means one with less deterrent capability.

Anti-Israel voices make a big deal about not trusting Israel to keep the technology safe (“might as well fly it to China”, says one), but these aircraft are built in export versions precisely to provide ‘technology protection’.

I’m afraid that the reason is political, not technical.

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