WASHINGTON - The US Defense Department is expected to finalize a $10 billion arms deal with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates next week that will provide missiles, warplanes and troop transports to help the Mideast countries counter any future threat from Iran, the New York Times reported Friday.
The arms deal will be the centerpiece of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's visit the countries next week, according to a US official. The agreement with Israel is expected to be finalized during a meeting between Hagel and Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon.
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Under the agreement, the report said, each country would be allowed to purchase advanced armaments from American contractors. Israel would buy new missiles designed to take out an adversary's air-defense radars, as well as advanced radars for its own warplanes, new KC-35 refueling tanker planes and — in the first sale to any foreign military — the V-22 Osprey troop transport aircraft, which can take off and land like a helicopter but fly with the speeds and range of an airplane.
According to the New York Times, the United Arab Emirates would buy 26 F-16 warplanes, a package that could reach $5 billion alone, along with precision missiles that could be launched from those jets at distant ground targets. Saudi Arabia would buy the same class of advanced missile.
The newspaper said the arms sale, which was outlined to Congress on Thursday, will encounter little opposition from lawmakers.
V-22 Osprey troop transport aircraft (Photo: Hanan Greenberg)
Former defense minister Ehud Barak discussed the arms deal with former US defense secretary Leon Panetta over the course of the past year, and last month he discussed the issue with current Defense Secretary Hagel during a meeting at the Pentagon.
During his visit to the US two months ago, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz flew in a V-22 Osprey troop transport aircraft.
According to the New York Times, a new generation of KC-135 refueling tanker planes would allow Israel's warplanes stay in the air longer, an ability essential for any long-range mission — "like a strike by Iran." The tankers would also be useful for air patrols protecting Israeli borders, the report said.
The report quoted Congressional officials as saying that members were seeking assurances that the package was in keeping with American policy to guarantee Israel's "qualitative military edge" while not recklessly emboldening "Israeli hawks."
One senior administration official was quoted by the New York Times as saying "the president believes there is still time and space for diplomacy to work" in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
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