U.S. Aircraft Sale Upholds Israel Military Edge: Hagel

The U.S. plans to provide Israel with advanced weapons, including the first export of the tilt-rotor V-22 Osprey, as part of an “iron-clad pledge” to ensure its edge against enemies such as Syria and Iran, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said.

“We’re committed to providing Israel with whatever support is necessary for Israel to maintain military superiority over any state or coalition of states and non-state actors,” Hagel said after meeting today with Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon in Tel Aviv.

Hagel, 66, expressed the Obama administration’s commitment to making sure Iran doesn’t acquire the capability to build a nuclear weapon. He said the U.S. is coordinating its response to Iran with Israel and said economic sanctions against the oil-rich nation are “potent, wide and deep.”

The weapons package that Hagel and Ya’alon discussed includes refueling aircraft, anti-radiation missiles and advanced radar for jet fighters. The Osprey, an airplane that takes off and lands like a helicopter, will improve Israel’s ability to conduct commando and rescue operations.

The weapons will “ensure Israel’s air superiority in the future and allow the Israeli Air Force long-range capabilities,” Hagel said, and Israel is getting equipment “that we have not given to any other country.”

The Osprey is made by the Bell Helicopter unit of Providence, Rhode Island-based Textron Inc. and Chicago-based Boeing Co.

Military Financing

The U.S. provides Israel with weapons under the foreign military financing program. Hagel said the Obama administration “has ensured that Israel receives an all-time high of $3.1 billion” this year under that program “despite fiscal pressures.” The U.S. and Israel are discussing a new 10-year agreement for the foreign assistance program after the current one expires in 2017, Hagel said.

As of early 2012, the U.S. had provided foreign assistance to Israel of $115 billion since the end of World War II, making the Jewish state the largest recipient of such aid, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Iran denies it is laying the groundwork to build nuclear weapons and says its program is designed for energy production and medical use.

Asked if the new U.S. weapons address Israel’s concern that Iran may reach a point where a military attack wouldn’t be sufficient to set back its pursuit of nuclear weapons, Ya’alon, 62, said, “Without a credible military option there’s no chance the Iranian regime will realize it has to stop the military nuclear project.”

Saudis, U.A.E.

Although options including diplomacy, economic sanctions and support to opposition groups must be continued, “in certain circumstances, a military option should be exercised,” Ya’alon said.

The focus of Hagel’s trip is to reach agreements to sell $10 billion of U.S. weaponry to Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, according to U.S. defense officials who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity before the deals were announced.

Israel has no objections if the U.S. provides advanced missiles and radar to Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E, Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., said in a brief interview in Jerusalem.

In addition to meeting Ya’alon at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, Hagel boarded an Israeli military helicopter for an aerial tour of the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967. Hagel plans to meet tomorrow with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Syria’s Weapons

Asked if Syria has used its stockpile of chemical weapons against rebels fighting the regime of Bashar al-Assad, Hagel said the U.S. intelligence agencies were assessing “what happened and what did not happen.”

Hagel declined to say what action the U.S. would take if it found evidence the stockpile had been used.

Ya’alon said Israel also is concerned about Syria’s use of chemical weapons and had drawn a so-called red line if the Assad regime resorted to it.

Netanyahu has warned Assad “not to allow any rogue elements to put their hands on the Syrian chemical arsenal,” Ya’alon said. “This is a red line for us. It hasn’t been tested yet, but we are ready.”