The United States provided only a limited amount of arms to Israel, including ammunition and recoilless rifles, prior to 1962. In that year, President Kennedy sold HAWK anti-aircraft missiles, but only after the Soviet Union provided Egypt with long-range bombers.
By 1965, the U.S. had become Israel’s main arms supplier. This was partially necessitated by West Germany’s acquiescence to Arab pressure, which led it to stop selling tanks to Israel. As was true throughout most of the Johnson Administration, however, the sale of arms to Israel was balanced by corresponding transfers to the Arabs. Thus, the first U.S. tank sale to Israel, in 1965, was offset by a similar sale to Jordan.
The U.S. did not provide Israel with aircraft until 1966. Even then, secret agreements were made to provide the same planes to Morocco and Libya, and additional military equipment was sent to Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia.
As in 1948, the U.S. imposed an arms embargo on Israel during the Six-Day War, while the Arabs continued to receive Soviet arms. Israel’s position was further undermined by the French decision to embargo arms transfers to the Jewish State, effectively ending their role as Israel’s only other major supplier.
It was only after it became clear that Israel had no other sources of arms, and that the Soviet Union had no interest in limiting its sales to the region, that President Johnson agreed to sell Israel Phantom jets that gave the Jewish State its first qualitative advantage. “We will henceforth become the principal arms supplier to Israel,” Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Warnke told Israeli Ambassador Yitzhak Rabin, “involving us even more intimately with Israel’s security situation and involving more directly the security of the United States.”
From that point on, the U.S. began to pursue a policy whereby Israel’s qualitative edge was maintained and it was later required by Congress. The U.S. has also remained committed, however, to arming Arab nations, providing sophisticated missiles, tanks and aircraft to Jordan, Morocco, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Thus, while Israel received F-15s in 1978, so too did Egypt and Saudi Arabia. In 1981, Saudi Arabia, for the first time, received a weapons system that gave it a qualitative advantage over Israel—AWACS radar planes.
In September 1999, Israel signed a deal with the United States to purchase 50 F-16I fighter planes at a cost of $2.46 billion. Under the terms of the agreement, Israel has the option to purchase 60 additional F-16Is at the same price. The advanced model of the warplane contains systems that were developed by Israel’s military industries including avionics systems, an electronic warfare system developed by Elisra, missiles and sensors manufactured by Raphael, detachable fuel tanks manufactured by Israel Military Industries and other Israeli-developed systems.
In November 1999, the United States government approved the sale of 700 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) bombs to the Israeli Air Force for $45 million. This marks the first time that Israel has been allowed to purchase the JDAM. The bombs, which are produced by Boeing in St. Louis, are used by specially-mounted F-15 and F-16 fighter planes and are considered the most advanced of their type in the world.
In March 2002, the United States transferred to Israel an advanced system to help detect incoming ballistic missiles. The system works together with the Arrow anti-missile system and is designed to enhance Israel’s early-warning capability. The impetus for the transfer was the expectation that the United States plans to eventually attack Iraq and that Saddam Hussein might respond, as he did in the 1991 Gulf War, by firing missiles at Israel.
In February 2003, the United States and Israel signed an agreement to cooperate in the development of America’s latest jet fighter design, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The agreement stipulated that Israel would pay the United States millions of dollars for the rights to use and participate in the designing of the plane.
In September 2004, the United States sold Israel nearly 5,000 smart bombs in one of the largest weapons deals between the allies. Valued at $319 million, funding for the sale will come from U.S. military aid to Israel. Among the bombs are 500 one-ton bunker busters that can penetrate two-meter-thick cement walls; 2,500 regular one-ton bombs; 1,000 half-ton bombs; and 500 quarter-ton bombs. The bombs Israel include airborne versions, guidance units, training bombs and detonators. They are guided by an existing Israeli satellite used by the military.
In October 2005, the U.S. Defense Department announced a sale to Israel of jet engines and other air force equipment. The $600 million total in parts and services will probably come from the $2.2 billion the U.S pledged in grants to Israel in 2005, most of which will be spent in the United States. The sale of jet engines to Israel would “contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the U.S. by helping to improve the security of a friendly country that has been, and continues to be, an important force for economic progress in the Middle East.” The engines, meant for Israel’s force of F-15 and F-16 fighters, will dramatically improve the flying capabilities and maintenance of the IAF fleet.
In December 2006, the U.S. Congress approved a proposal to increase the amount of emergency equipment the United States prepositions in Israeli stockpiles. These stockpiles are meant for use by U.S. forces in the Middle East in case of an emergency. Israel is also allowed to use the stockpiles and did so during combat in the war with Hezbollah in the summer of 2006. The current value of materiel in the stockpile is $100 million. In 2008, the military stock will be doubled.
In 2008, Congress enacted legislation requiring that any proposed U.S. arms sale to any country in the Middle East other than Israel must include a notification to Congress with a determination that the sale or export of such would not adversely affect Israel’s qualitative military edge over military threats to Israel.
The legislation defines QME as “the ability to counter and defeat any credible conventional military threat from any individual state or possible coalition of states or from nonstate actors, while sustaining minimal damages and casualties, through the use of superior military means, possessed in sufficient quantity, including weapons, command, control, communication, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities that in their technical characteristics are superior in capability to those of such other individual or possible coalition of states or nonstate actors.” The details of official U.S. assessments of QME are generally classified.
In December 2009, a new agreement was reached to stockpile $800 million worth of weapons and ammunition in Israel, which Obama administration officials described as a sign of the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security. In 1990, the United States began to preposition military equipment in Israel for use by American military forces, or by Israel in the event of a military emergency.
The U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act (P.L. 113-296) enacted in December 2014 requires more frequent QME assessments and executive-legislative consultations. It also requires that QME determinations include evaluations of how potential arms sales would change the regional balance, while identifying measures Israel may need to take in response to the potential sales, and assurances or possible assurances from the United States to Israel as a result of the potential sales.
In late 2014 Israel signed a deal with the United States to purchase $82 million worth of JDAM kits for combat aircraft.
In response to Israel’s skepticism and disapproval of the framework nuclear deal reached between the P5+1 and Iran, the United States and Israel entered unofficial negotiations in mid-May 2015 aimed at providing the Israeli military with additional U.S. military equipment. U.S. officials announced on May 20 that they had signed a deal to sell Israel $1.8 billion in precision guided munitions, large and small bombs, and ammunition. As a part of the deal Israel will also receive 3,000 Hellfire missiles that were supposed to be delivered in 2014, but were postponed due to Operation Protective Edge. Saudi Arabia will also receive 10 Seahawk helicopters from the United States as a part of this reassurance deal surrounding the framework agreement with Iran.
Israel was the first country outside the United States to receive the F-35. The first nine of 50 ordered by Israel became operational at the end of 2017. By the end of 2020, the total fleet was expected to total 27.
Aluf Benn, “U.S. to sell Israel 5,000 smart-bombs,” Haaretz, (September 21-22, 2004);
Yitzhak Benhorin, “U.S. to double emergency equipment stored in Israel,” Ynet News, (December 12, 2006);
Amos Harel, “U.S. to store $800 million in military equipment in Israel,” Haaretz, (January 11, 2010);
Amos Harel, “Washington, Jerusalem discussing massive compensation for Iran nuclear deal,” Haaretz, (May 20, 2015);
Cohen, Gil. “U.S. Sells Israel precision munitions, bombs, in $1.8 billion deal,” Haaretz, (May 20,. 2015);
“Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Israeli procurement,” Wikipedia;
Arie Egozi, “Israelis To Boost F-35 Fleet’s Electronic Warfare,” Breaking Defense, (June 15, 2020).