By Munir K. Nasser
Major Jewish American organizations expressed concern over The Clinton Administration’s inability to help Israel with additional funds to meet the cost of Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon.
The concern surfaced this week in Washington following efforts by Congress to punish Israel for its plans to sell advanced radar equipment to China. American Jewish lobbying groups say they are trying to help diffuse the tension between Congress and Israel and convince the US lawmakers to approve new assistance to help Israel strengthen its defenses along the Lebanese border.
According to Jewish groups in Washington, Israel is facing a new defense reality and a host of new expenses after withdrawing from its security zone in southern Lebanon. It is counting on assistance from the United States to deploy the latest high-tech weapons to protect it northern borders. Israel’s sudden withdrawal last month from its security zone has created a series of challenges for the Israeli army.
Some Jewish lobbying analysts expressed concern over the ability of the Lebanese government and UN peacekeeping forces to curb the activities of Hizbollah and other groups in the area. They point to the fact that Israel will require a dramatic and expensive reorganization of its physical defenses in the north and the acquisition of new types of weaponry to counter the Katyusha rockets possessed by Hizbollah.
According to a report by AIPAC, the major pro-Israel lobbying group in Washington, Israel’s main security goal in the near term is to establish a new barrier along the international border with Lebanon. The barrier will include a new, highly sophisticated fence and surveillance system now being set up that will use a variety of sensors to identify intruders attempting to infiltrate the border. Other elements of the fortifications will include new defense outposts, patrol roads and mines.
The report said that the most dramatic boost to Israel’s new defense of the Lebanese border would come later this year when the first Tactical High-Energy Laser (THEL) unit is deployed by the Israeli army to detonate Katyusha rockets in flight before they reach northern communities. An important milestone in the development of this system occurred June 6th in White Sands, New Mexico when the THEL successfully destroyed a Katyusha rocket for the first time during a test.
The report stated that this breakthrough technology is more important now than ever because Israeli forces no longer have the nine-mile-wide security zone in southern Lebanon as a buffer between Hizbollah’s Katyushas and residents in the northern Israel.
According to the AIPAC’s estimates, the cost of adapting to this new strategic reality is steep. Early cost estimates of the Israeli army withdrawal from southern Lebanon came to nearly $250 million, assuming it would be done within the context of a peace settlement. Some estimates, however, now suggest the direct costs to the Israeli economy of the rapid unilateral withdrawal could exceed $1.2 billion in the short term, according to a article in Defense News.
Some Jewish groups are pressuring the US to help Israel defray the costs of the withdrawal. The Clinton Administration has already allowed flexibility in Israel’s security aid to cover some of the construction needed to beef up defensive positions in northern Israel. US Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk announced recently that the United States was prepared to assist Israel in upgrading its border defenses by permitting $50 million of its military assistance to be spent in Israel for a series of infrastructure projects to be overseen by the US Army Corps of Engineers – Albawaba.com
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