Night after night, in the weeks leading up to the end of US combat mission in Iraq on Aug. 31, long American army convoys made their way from Iraq to Israel via Jordan. Their big lights were turned off as they travelled the Hashemite kingdom's roads with Jordanian Engineering Corps escorts. They switched high again after crossing the border posts and the bridges which separate the kingdom from Israel.
Most of the military equipment shipped out of Iraq goes to the largest American emergency depot in southern Kuwait and is redirected to Afghanistan to meet US military needs there.
The overflow was diverted through Aqaba, Jordan's Red Sea port into the Israeli Negev desert, some of it ending up in US emergency military depots, the second largest strategic reserve stores in the Middle East after the Kuwait depot.
Some of the trucks also rumbled across the Damia Bridge, also known as the Adam Bridge which spans the Jordan River border, 30 miles north of Jericho, traveled for another hour and a half or so up to the big Israeli military maintenance bases near Haifa, in central Israel east of Tel Aviv or at Israel's Ben-Gurion International Airport.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources, the Pentagon calculated that it would not be cost-effective to ship the hundreds of tons of US military equipment evacuated from Iraq to Persian Gulf bases or America. Piling up now at US Negev facilities, they are being sorted and distributed for their next functions by hundreds of US maintenance personnel assisted by Israeli counterparts from the IDF's Supply and Ordnance Corps.
Shiny new US military vehicles repainted for IDF units
Western military sources familiar with the convoys and the equipment divide it into five categories:
1. Thousands of military vehicles: light armored combat vehicles, command vehicles, light and heavy trucks, fuel tankers, all-terrain vehicles, communications vehicles, mobile engineering gear including portable cranes, repair shops and ambulances.
2. Armored personnel carriers.
4. Convoys loaded with masses of ordnance.
5. Millions of pieces of military equipment from the First Theatre Sustainment Command (TSC), Third Army, which managed the massive logistics operations for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
The vehicles in good repair are checked, washed and repainted with IDF plates and insignia, handed over for the use of US units based or training in Israel, or stowed away in US storage centers. The vehicles unfit for further military use will be lined up outside Israeli bases and offered used military vehicle salesmen. Most will end up in Africa or East Europe.
Observers were struck by the large number of US-military issues of vehicles, especially APCs, trucks and command and communications trucks, all bearing shiny coats of fresh paint, when they watched Israel's massive military movement northward to the Sea of Galilee and Golan regions on Aug. 9-12, to drill the transfer of armored units in war conditions, and the transfer of the Kfir Division from the West Bank to northern Israel after weeks of threatening rhetoric and weapons movements from Syria and Hizballah. (See the first item in this issue on the establishment of the joint Syrian-Hizballah military command.)
Superfluous to needs in Afghanistan
DEBKA-Net-Weekly heard a high-ranking Israeli officer commenting: "The injection of American military equipment from Iraq has definitely boosted the quality of our operational fleet at several levels. We've been able to junk outdated items, some from the early 1990s and take several jumps ahead qualitatively."
He added: US gear is not foreign to us because the Israeli officers and instructors who advised the American army in Iraq in counter-terror tactics – and even took active part in some US operations, began working with this equipment some years ago.
Personnel who have meanwhile ended their military service have been called up to the reserves to assist in the rapid absorption of the newly-arrived US supplies from Iraq.
Two billion dollars' worth of fuel for military purposes took the same route as the munitions to the Israeli military after US military depots in Afghanistan were filled by the overflow from Iraq.
The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) informed Congress on Aug. 6 of the transfer to Israel of 1.075 billion liters of JP-8 jet fuel; 478,000 liters of diesel fuel for tanks; 227,000 liters of unleaded fuel for military vehicles.
With the end of the US combat in Iraq, the 50,000 American troops remaining there have no need of these massive quantities of fuel or munitions and the Pentagon decided that shipping them to Israel was the quickest and cheapest way to be rid of them.
A softener for Netanyahu's hard edges for talks with Palestinians
Expedience was not the only consideration for this action.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Middle Eastern sources have no doubt that the Obama administration poured out this military largesse to soften Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's positions ahead of the first direct talks with Palestinian leaders in 20 months when they started in Washington on September 2. He was meant to understand flexibility on concessions to the Palestinians would translate into more provisions for his armed forces.
It may have worked up to a point. The Netanyahu government's rather stiff relations with Washington looked up surprisingly as the extras flowed in as, too, the tone of communications with Jordan's King Abdullah.
Apropos of this policy, as Netanyahu was preparing to fly to Washington this week, the administration informed Israel of the go-ahead for negotiations to bring the state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries-IAI into the manufacture of the new top-of-the-line US F-35 stealth fighter aircraft. The IAE would be asked to build the wings for about a quarter of this super-warplane, of which Lockheed Martin plans to turn out some 3,200, at a cost of $96 million each.
An Israeli official disclosed Monday, August 30: "We are in advanced talks with the Americans for IAI to produce around 800 sets of wings."
Jordan's Abdullah comes around too
The coolness from Amman has also warmed up.
In the past year, King Abdullah II has acted as voluntary Arab propagandist against Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu in particular – both in the Middle East and the West.
Sunday, August 29, all of a sudden, King Abdullah welcomed Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak to his palace. They held a wide-ranging conversation on four topics of mutual interest: the prospects of success for the first direct talks between Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas in Washington four days hence; the alignment of the Jordanian and Israeli positions on these talks; the critical situation unfolding in Iraq (See a separate item on the Iranian-Syrian-Hizballah takeover of Iraq) which holds menace for Israel and Jordan alike; and the passage of American military convoys from Iraq to Israel via Jordan.
The conversation ended amicably enough for King Abdullah to suggest inviting Abbas to his palace that same night for a three-way get-together with the Israel defense minister on common factors ahead of the formal opening of the talks in Washington.
Barak flew to Jerusalem by helicopter to consult with Netanyahu before returning that night to join the king and the PA leader.