Checking in with America’s Best Friend and Ally in the Whole Wide World

Hey, I wonder what our best pal is up to these da

Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel thought it would be a nice going-away present for visiting Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev: an unmanned helicopter used for agricultural research.

Now it emerges that Israel may run into trouble with the United States for handing over the aircraft, if it is proved that it has been developed with American technology. Moreover, a diplomatic tiff may be brewing as well with Moscow, since the helicopter was given to the Russians without some of its technological features.

At the same time, there could be trouble if the aircraft is found to be equipped with American technology that has not been approved for export to Russia by Israel’s Defense Ministry. Equipment that is considered to be “dual use” – that is, to have both civilian and military applications – must be approved for exports in advance by the ministry.

Such approval is intended to prevent advanced technology developed by America and other countries from reaching unfriendly nations, and/or from being re-exported in some fashion in another product without formal permission. In the past such violations have led to the dismissal of senior Israeli officials, including a Defense Ministry director general.

Not only is it possible (probable?) that Ariel handed unapproved US tech to Moscow (it’s not clear if the drone’s thermal imaging camera, the tech in question, was included when it was gifted to Medvedev), but the drone itself was owned by a private company, not the Israeli government, which puts the government–and, therefore, the taxpayers–on the hook for a replacement. On top of that, Ariel almost certainly shattered Israeli government rules about the maximum allowed value of gifts given to foreign officials. All in all a job well done. I only have one quibble: instead of showering Israel with $38 billion in brand new military hardware over the next 10 years, why doesn’t Washington just ship that stuff directly to Moscow and cut out the middleman?

Maybe Neyanyahu should hire himself to Bibi-sit his cabinet


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