IRMEP | Friday, Jul. 10, 2009
AIPAC and the US Colombia Free Trade Deal
by Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy (email@example.com)
In 2007 Colombia awarded Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) a contract worth more than $150 million to upgrade its aging fleet of Kfir fighter jets. The first upgraded batch began arriving in June. But why is Colombia buying the package now? The influence of Israel’s lobby in the US Congress and the troubled fighter plane’s history are key to understanding the deal.
Israeli once depended on French Mirage jet fighters. They were critical in the Israeli attacks that started the Six Day War. When the French government imposed an arms embargo on 50 fighters Israel had already paid for in 1967, Mossad stole more than 250,000 blueprints (weighing 3 tons) of the Mirage III fighter from Switzerland’s Sulzer Engineering Corporation. Sulzer was building fighters under contract with Dassault. Israel then secured a license to build General Electric J79 turbojets and was soon test flying the Mirage based fighters. These would become the copycat Kfir fighter by September 1970.
IAI attempted to sell the Kfir to Ecuador, a deal President Jimmy Carter killed in 1976. IAI held protests in front of the US consulate. President Carter provided the Israelis with an extra $285 million in economic aid as compensation, an unwarranted bonus since President Reagan later reversed the ban and allowed the Ecuador sale. The US again paid for Kfirs when Israel and its US lobby convinced the US Navy and Marine Corps to lease twenty five of the planes to simulate "adversary aircraft" in air combat training. US Navy pilots flying the Kfir found the GE powered fighter to be "sluggish" compared to the original Mirage—indicating IAI had failed in its attempt to join an existing engine to an existing airframe. But Kfir’s export never relied on its utility as a weapon or deterrent. Rather political pressure from Israel’s lobby has been instrumental helping export Kfirs and many other weapons as Israel slowly rises to become a top five global arms exporter. But is the US again paying for Kfirs? Possibly.
In 2008 Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos announced during a visit to Israel that the Kfirs purchase would be financed by a "war tax" Colombia began to charge in 2007. The US has provided Colombia with over $5 billion in military and police assistance, freeing up Colombia’s own defense budget for other priorities. Rival Venezuela’s modern Russian fighters vastly outclass the Israeli planes. Santos assured Colombia’s neighbors that the Israeli jets would be used for "internal security." But that is doubtful. Guerrillas such as the FARC don’t have any air power or many high value target the Israeli planes are uniquely capable of striking. The Kfir upgrade must be seen mainly as a quid pro quo to provide business to Israel, which can then influence the US Congress to ratify the stalled bilateral US-Colombia free trade agreement (FTA). Colombia is eager for the foreign direct investment and growth potential of the FTA, while for the past fifteen years Israel has been trying to unload 140 of the obsolete Kfirs it retired from its own fleet in 1976.
By paying off IAI and laying the groundwork for future Israeli weapons purchases, the Colombian government clearly hopes to win the support of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to help pass the FTA. It is currently stalled over Colombian human rights questions. AIPAC has lobbied for bilateral free trade between the US, Oman, and Qatar—as ways to break the Arab boycott of Israel. The 1985 US-Israel FTA, which has cost $71 billion and 100,000 American jobs a year, was the first bilateral agreement ever signed by the US. According to former deputy director of research Martin Indyk, only AIPAC had the muscle to push such an unpopular and costly deal through Congress. AIPAC has been instrumental in shaping the trade policies that have led to monster trade deficits for the US:
"The whole free trade agreement process was started with the US-Israel free trade agreement. Why? Because that was the only way the Clinton administration, no we’re talking about the Reagan administration, could get it through Congress was with AIPAC’s help. And once they established the free trade agreement with Israel it became possible to get free trade agreements and that was the precursor to NAFTA and so on."
AIPAC has not yet formally reported any lobbying for the US Colombia deal on its meager disclosures filed with the US House of Representatives. But if a major US media and lobbying push for passage of the Colombian FTA suddenly ignites later this year, it’ll be a good indication to Americans that quiet and circuitous offshore weapons deals—indirectly financed by their tax dollars and tailored to influence the US Congress—have been successful.