Israel Seeking U.S. F-35 Fighter Jets, Won’t Cooperate With U.N. Probe Into Gaza Admist More Settler Violence in the West Bank
While Israel may be snubbing Washington’s demands to freeze its settlements expansion, the country’s appetite for the latest U.S. arms remains as strong as ever.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak will hold talks with U.S. officials in the U.S. on Monday in a move which Tel Aviv says is aimed at healing a rift between Washington and the Israeli government.
Barak’s talks in Washington is originally planned to focus on military ties, but Israeli and U.S. media say that Barak is expected to devote a lot of time to ease tensions between the two sides.
During the three-day trip, the Israeli minister is expected to meet Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, National Security Adviser James Jones and President Barack Obama’s special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell.
Barack is expected to voice Israeli’s request to buy up to 75 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters (JSF) in a deal worth up to $15.2 billion, plus other advanced weapon systems, AFP quoted a senior official as saying.
Depending on the variants, F35 fighters could take off conventionally (F35A), or operate as a Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) aircraft (F35B).
Israel — the largest recipient of U.S. military aid — has been reported to be interested over 100 of the aircraft in a mix of configurations.
Earlier this week, Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev declared that the regime will continue its settlement expansion because “normal life” in Israeli should be allowed to continue.
The Israeli government refuses to adopt a positive stance to international calls to stop settlement activities which is among key issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Jewish settlers rampaged in the West Bank on Monday, wounding four Palestinians, as they vented fury that Israel may answer U.S. calls and dismantle outposts in the territory, officials said.
Jewish extremists blocked roads, hurled rocks at drivers, burned fields, cut down olive trees and opened fire towards Palestinians who tried to chase the trespassers from their fields in the northern West Bank, witnesses said.
West of the city of Nablus, an area home to some of the most hardline settlers in the occupied territory, dozens of masked extremists blocked a road in the early hours and hurled rocks at Palestinian drivers who stopped their vehicles to move the obstructions, they said.
“They attacked when the minibus (carrying 17 Palestinian workers on their way to work in Israel) stopped. The man next to the driver was seriously wounded,” said Zakaria Sada, an activist with the Rabbis for Human Rights organisation.
When another driver stopped his vehicle to move the stones in the road, the mob beat him until Israeli troops arrived on the scene, Sada said.
Four people were wounded in the attacks, and one remained in serious condition in hospital with a fractured skull, medics said.
Near the settlement of Yizhar — one of the most radical in the West Bank — heavy smoke billowed into the air as settlers set fire to Palestinian fields.
When a group of Palestinians threw stones trying to chase them off the land, about 20 settlers armed with guns jumped out from hiding places and opened fire in the direction of the Palestinians and journalists, an AFP correspondent said.
Three army patrol vehicles at a nearby junction stood by and did not intervene to stop the violence, but prevented a Palestinian fire-engine from reaching the field.
The police and army had no immediate comment. >>>
Israeli officials have dismissed reports that the US might condition its support for Israel in the U.N. to a halt in settlement expansion in the West Bank.
The reaction by Israeli officials came a day after the New York Times reported that Washington is mulling over measures to force Israel into heeding to the U.S. demand that all construction works in the occupied West Bank be halted.
The paper added that such measures could include dropping support for Tel Aviv in the U.N.
According to the report, Washington might also refrain from vetoing anti Israeli resolutions in the Security Council and make use of “Mr. Obama’s bully pulpit to criticize the settlements.”
The Obama administration has been at odds with the new Israeli government over the issue of the West Bank settlements. While the White House is demanding a complete freeze in the construction work, Israel insists that it keeps the construction projects to meet the needs caused by “natural growth” in the settlements.
On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated that his government does not intend to heed Washington’s demands.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accuses the U.S. of making ‘unreasonable’ requests, vowing to continue the settlement expansion in defiance of Washington.
In response to the Obama administration’s calls for a halt in all settlement construction activities in the occupied territories, Netanyahu said on Monday that Israel would not put the construction in the West Bank Jewish communities on hold, Ha’aretz reported.
“There are reasonable demands and demands that are not reasonable,” he told the Knesset.
The remarks reinforce assumptions that a gap between Tel Aviv and Washington is deepening. They also hint at a rift between Netanyahu and his left-wing allies in the government as the Israeli Army evacuated an outpost in the northern West Bank on Monday.
Israeli officials had earlier promised not to evacuate the 26 illegal outposts in the West Bank. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak had personally vowed that he would not to bow to U.S. pressure regarding the illegal settlements — which are in direct violation of three U.N. Security Council Resolutions.
Netanyahu is facing global pressure to respect Washington requests, with more countries condemning the settlement activities and calling on E.U. to side with the U.S. on the issue.
On the other hand the hawkish premier is facing domestic outrage over the army’s move to evacuate the outposts, with Gershon Mesika, head of Shomron Regional Council vowing to rebuild the destroyed structures.
“The nation of Israel elected a government that is supposed to care for the settlements and not destroy them, using hypocritical legalities as an excuse,” he said.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Monday told the United Nations secretary general during their meeting in New York that the international body’s investigation of alleged Israeli war crimes in the Gaza Strip was misguided.
Rather than question Israel’s military activities during the Gaza war earlier this year, Barak told Ban Ki Moon, the United Nations should investigate why militant rocket fire has yet to stop after eight consecutive years.
“I don’t think Israel has to — or will — cooperate with this interrogation,” Barak said. >>>
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