JERUSALEM – During his first visit to Israel as President Obama’s new secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel said Tuesday it was vital for the U.S. and Israel to maintain a strong alliance, particularly in the wake of growing security challenges.
“This is a difficult and dangerous time,” Hagel said prior to a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “This is a time when friends and allies must remain close, closer than ever.”
Earlier in his three-day visit, Hagel presented Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon with an impressive list of advanced weapons that would allow the Israel Defense Forces to launch sophisticated military operations both close to and far from its borders.
The arsenal, which will include the futuristic F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, V-22 Osprey multi-mission tilt-rotor aircraft, KC-135 long-range refueling tankers, an array of advanced smart munitions and missiles, as well as additional Pentagon funding for the Iron Dome and David’s Sling anti-missile programs, is part of Obama’s annual $3.1 billion package in military aid to Israel.
While no monies actually change hands, Israel’s Ministry of Defense uses the funds as a grant toward the purchase of the various weapons systems, which are manufactured at defense industry complexes throughout the U.S. The F-35 is made by Lockheed-Boeing, the V-22 Osprey is produced by Bell-Boeing, and the KC-135 airframe is an upgraded military version of the old Boeing 707 commercial aircraft. The Iron Dome and David Sling’s systems are manufactured in Israel.
Though no date was given as to when Israel would receive the various aircraft, the Israel Air Force (IAF) had previously announced that the first F-35 aircraft would be integrated into the IAF by 2016. The first IAF V-22, currently being produced for the U.S. Marines, Navy and Air Force, could be deployed within a year. The U.S. Air Force, which recently decided to replace its KC-135 fleet with a more advanced air refueling tanker, could also transfer one or two of its tankers within the next year or two.
According to sources, early delivery of V-22 and KC-135 aircraft would significantly boost the IAF and IDF’s ability to launch deep strike missions and commando operations inside Syria and Iran. Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly have prodded the Jordanian and Turkish governments to allow the IDF to operate over and in their territories in the event of a military emergency. Jordan has allegedly agreed to allow IAF drones to use its airspace to gather intelligence and attack, if necessary, targets in central and southern Syria.
Meanwhile, the Sunday Times of London reported that Israel’s national security adviser, Gen. Yaakov Amidror, who helped broker the Israeli apology to Turkey over the Marmara incident, asked the Turkish government for permission to use a military base near the Iranian border should the IDF attack Iranian nuclear facilities. In exchange for the use of the unnamed base, Israel would offer Turkey advanced missile systems to defend its territory.
Asked whether he believed it was advisable for Israel to attack Iran, Hagel responded that “Israel is a sovereign nation; every sovereign nation has a right to defend itself,” adding that the “calculation has to be made by Israel.”
During a press conference earlier this week, Hagel and Ya’alon outlined their respective government’s positions.
“We are 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,” said Hagel.
“Given the range of complex security challenges facing the United States and Israel in this region, the Obama administration has made not just maintaining, but enhancing and improving Israel’s qualitative military edge a top priority.
“Today, we took another significant step in the United States-Israel defense relationship. Minister Ya’alon and I agreed that the United States will make available to Israel a set of advanced new military capabilities, which he has noted, including anti-radiation missiles and advanced radars for its fleet of fighter jets, KC-135 refueling aircraft, and most significantly, the V-22 Osprey, which the U.S. has not released to any other nation.
“The new radar and anti-radiation missiles, along with Israel’s participation in the Joint Strike Fighter program, ensures that Israel will maintain air superiority for the next generation. The introduction of the V-22 into the Israel Air Force will give the IAF long-range, high-speed, maritime search-and-rescue capabilities to deal with a number of threats and contingencies.”
Ya’alon praised Hagel and the Obama administration. “We see your commitment in Iron Dome and other anti-missile systems that save lives,” he said. “We see your commitment in the Joint Strike Fighter program and the presidential approval of other advanced capabilities, such as the V-22 for Israel. We see your commitment in our joint military maneuvers and our extensive intelligence sharing, all part of our comprehensive strategic cooperation and dialogue. We see your commitment in your determination to uphold Israel’s qualitative military edge. We see it all, Mr. Secretary, and we are deeply grateful.”