Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel met his Israeli counterpart Moshe Yaalon on Monday to put the finishing touches on a multi-billion dollars arms deal between the two allies, which will see Israel receiving an impressive package of advanced US missiles and aircraft.
“Today we took another significant step in the US-Israel defense relationship,” Hagel said at a joint news conference in Tel Aviv, reiterating Washington’s “ironclad pledge” to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region.
“Minister Yaalon and I agreed that the United States will make available to Israel a set of advanced new military capabilities … including anti-radiation missiles and advanced radars for fighter jets, KC135 refueling aircraft, and most significantly the V-22 Osprey, which the United States has not released to any other nation,” Hagel confirmed.
Hagel arrived in Israel on Sunday at the start of a six-day regional tour, his first since taking over as Pentagon chief two months ago, which was likely to be dominated by concerns over Iran’s nuclear program and the Syrian conflict.
Syria was a central part of their talks, with Yaalon admitting that Israel had already “acted” to stop advanced Syrian weapons from falling into militant hands, in what was seen as implicit confirmation of Israeli involvement in a strike on an arms convoy inside Syria in January.
“When they crossed this red line, we acted,” he said, in what was widely understood to be the January 30 strike which hit what a US official said were surface-to-air missiles near Damascus that Israel suspected were en route to Hezbollah.
The second red line was maintaining the calm along the Israeli-Syrian ceasefire line on the occupied Golan Heights, and the third was the transfer of chemical weapons into the hands of militants, which “has not been tested yet,” Yaalon said.
Later on Monday, Hagel will meet Israeli President Shimon Peres and then hold talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday morning before leaving for Jordan.
He will also visit Cairo on his tour, then Riyadh and Abu Dhabi to finalise details of the elaborate $10 billion arms deal that will also provide sophisticated missiles to Saudi and US F-16 fighter jets to the UAE.
Earlier last month, Hagel had reassured Ehud Barak in a two-hour meeting that he would work to prevent disruption to Washington’s funding for military equipment to Israel despite massive recent US budget cuts.
The meeting came less than a week after President Barack Obama reluctantly ordered $85 billion in budget cuts, and amid speculation that the move would shave off funds to Israel. In 2007, the US and Israel signed a deal to send $30 billion in military aid to Israel for a decade.