Tuesday, May 22, 2001

U.S. law provides wide discretion to foreign customers — such as Israel — to use American-made weapons — the F-16 jet fighter for one — for self-defense.
Israel has been criticized, both at home and from abroad, for using the supersonic F-16s to strike Palestinian security headquarters. It was the first time Israel has resorted to such a high-profile, and potent, American-delivered weapon in its long war with Palestinians.
The Friday night missile attack, in retaliation for a suicide bomber killing five Israelis in a shopping mall, has also brought mooted criticism from the Bush administration.
But legally, arms specialists said yesterday, Israel is free to use the single-engine jet for what it deems as self-protection measures. The U.S. Arms Export Control Act, which sets the general usage rules, states the exported arms may be used for “internal security” and “for legitimate self-defense.”
The government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon contends it had to strike the police headquarters to answer a continuing wave of terrorist attacks on Israel civilians. The air raid killed 12 Palestinians.
A Navy aviator familiar with aircraft procurement said the United States typically places few restrictions on how a weapon can be used by a foreign customer. The way the Defense Department does impose limitations is through the configuration of the system itself. For example, F-14 fighters sold to Iran lacked the type of sophisticated radar needed to fire the AIM-54A Phoenix, a long-range air-to-air missile.
The source, who asked not to be named, said he is not sure what limitations, if any, were placed on F-16s sold to Israel.
“Regardless, whatever they have, the Israelis capability far exceeds what the Palestinians have,” the source said.
The Israeli air force, known for topnotch pilots able to hold their own against American aviators in aerial exercises, has sent the F-16 on prominent missions in the past. In 1981, F-16s bombed Iraqs Osirak nuclear weapons facility outside Baghdad. Two years later, it dispatched F-16s to bomb Syria.
The F-16 is the backbone of the Israeli air force, accounting for roughly 60 percent of its 385-fighter fleet. Israel purchased the fighters from a yearly pot of $1.8 billion in U.S. military aid.
Senior Bush administration officials are not happy that Mr. Sharon used the F-16 to escalate the level of warfare. But publicly, they decline to condemn Tel Aviv.
Asked on NBCs “Meet the Press” whether Israel should stop using the fighters, Vice President Richard B. Cheney said Sunday, “I think they should stop. Both sides should stop and think about where theyre headed here and recognize that down this road lies disaster.”
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, asked yesterday about the F-16 deployment, said, “Were asking both sides to not take this up to any higher levels of escalation, and lets start moving things down.”
Later, his spokesman, Richard Boucher, declined to say what, if anything, the department has said to Israel about the F-16 strike.

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