U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel begins his first visit to the Middle East since taking office with a stop in Israel, where he’ll be discussing a proposed arms deal, Iran’s nuclear program and Syria’s civil war.
The centerpiece of Hagel’s visit will be a $10 billion dollar arms package to Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, according to U.S. officials. The Israeli component includes an unspecified number of V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor transport aircraft, air defense radar and KC-135 refueling tankers, according to an official who spoke on condition of anonymity before the deal is officially announced.
The U.S. has been exploring ways to boost Israel’s military edge given potential threats in the region, U.S. defense officials have said. Both countries suspect Iran’s nuclear program is a cover to build bombs, despite Tehran’s insistence that it is meant for energy and medical purposes. The U.S. and Israel are also concerned the embattled Syrian regime will use chemical weapons or lose control of them.
Hagel is scheduled to meet with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon this evening, President Shimon Peres tomorrow, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on April 24, after which he travels to Jordan. From there he plans stops in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the U.A.E.
Hagel’s appointment in February was opposed by some Jewish-American groups who said the former Republican senator from Nebraska had been insufficiently supportive of Israel while serving in congress.