Reciprocal Boost for Israel and Italy in Joint Weapons Production

Italy’s military electronics, aircraft and military industries are preparing to take off – boosted by heavy injections of American and Israeli expertise.
The Bush administration has approved cooperation arrangements between Israeli and Italian military, aircraft and electronic industries in the manufacture of weapons systems for electronic warfare and surveillance based partly on American technology.
This move has four far-reaching aspects for the European Union’s internal dynamic and Israel’s standing in that continent:
1. Washington is intent on deploying a new US-Italian-Israel front in the vanguard of upcoming Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic moves before Europe steps into the peacemaking initiatives projected for 2005 and 2006. This will fortify Italy as America’s staunchest supporter in Europe in relation to the EU, especially France.
2. Rome, rather than the EU, figures on the Bush game board as the foremost bulwark of America’s long-range strategic plans for East Europe, chiefly Poland, after the relocation to that country of US bases evacuated from Germany. Washington is in the process of building up ties between Israel and Poland. (Israeli defense minister Shaul Mofaz spent three days in Warsaw at the beginning of last week.) Rome is down as the hub for channeling and supervising those interchanges.
3. The Bush White House is keen on cutting Italy in on the security-military steps agreed by the Palestinians and Israelis for the interim period. The British are already setting up security operational centers and organizing Palestinian intelligence bodies on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. (British foreign secretary Jack Straw worked on these arrangements during his visit to Palestinian areas on Wednesday, November 24.) President George W. Bush wants to see Italian military and intelligence players in Palestinian areas alongside the British, thereby replicating the US-led coalition set-up in Iraq.
4. By promoting Israel-Italian military industrial collaboration, Bush applies a much-needed stimulant to the Italian and Israeli economies alike. Both depend heavily on full employment in their military and electronic industries for export revenues.
On November 18, Israeli defense minister Shaul Mofaz met Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and defense chief Antonio Martino. They announced the joint allocation of $181 million for “the development of a new electronic warfare system designed to disable enemy aircraft over a wide swath of airspace.”
According to debkafile‘s military sources, this terse description applies to a weapon Israel has already developed for jamming the navigation, computers, signals and firing systems of a potential enemy’s bomber-fighter, thereby disabling pilot and ground control.
That is only one element covered by the top-secret transaction; it also entails a broad range of missiles as well as electronic warfare systems for land, air and naval forces. The two governments agreed to join forces both in the manufacture and the marketing of these advanced military products.
Another key clause provides for close intelligence collaboration in combating terrorism.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Italy’s military and electronics industry was capable of innovative weapons manufacture but lacked professional know-how. Its electronic warfare production was stunted by shortage of capital for research and development.
With the newly-acquired expertise, Berlusconi hopes to extend the lead Italy’s electronic industry already has over its European competitors in Britain, Germany, France and Spain.
The partnership deal will have an impact beyond the purely industrial. It carries great potential for enhancing Italy’s economic and political profile inside Europe and tilting the continental balance of military and industrial power in its favor. Bush’s strategists are glad to reward Italy for standing square with Washington on Iraq and the global war on terror.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military experts say the partnership could open out to embrace Germany and alleviate its economic problems. Berlusconi has strong influence over German leader Gerhard Schroeder, but the politically weak chancellor may be wary of cultivating too close a relationship with one of Washington’s best friends in Europe and in any case would be reluctant to advertise it. Berlin already maintains active military and intelligence ties with Israel but is at great pains to keep them under wraps. Many Germans see in Israel a militaristic country that wantonly represses the Palestinians. At the same time, Schroeder is perfectly aware that German industry has everything to gain from an infusion of advanced military industrial technology.
The Sharon government, which is plagued by high unemployment, is more than willing to work with Italy on joint military industrial projects. It will be the first time Israel’s military and defense industries are accepted on level terms by a major West European power since the days of close Israeli-French security cooperation, especially in the nuclear field, in the 1950s.

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