Hagel confirms unprecedented arms sales to Israel

In Tel Aviv, US defense secretary says IAF will receive aerial refuelers and vertical-takeoff plane; Ya’alon hints at Israeli airstrike in Syria

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, center left, walks with Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon in Tel Aviv, April 2013 (photo credit: Ariel Hermoni/Israeli Ministry of Defense)
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, center left, walks with Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon in Tel Aviv, April 2013 (photo credit: Ariel Hermoni/Israeli Ministry of Defense)

The US will provide Israel with a long list of advanced weapons, guaranteeing it a technological edge and superiority over any enemy, US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said Monday during a Tel Aviv press conference with his Israeli counterpart.

The Israeli Air Force will receive advanced radar systems, missiles, refueling planes and V-22 planes, Hagel told reporters after a meeting with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. The V-22 planes, which can take off vertically, are something no country outside the US has, Hagel noted, adding that the aid package would vouchsafe Israel “military superiority over any enemy state, non-state or coalition,” and expand its ability to operate far from the country.

“Israel is a sovereign nation. Every sovereign nation has the right to defend itself,” Hagel said, calling Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons “a top priority” of the administration in Washington.

“Our countries share values, common interests, and a permanent bond that grows stronger over time,” said the defense secretary, who has faced criticism over past comments regarding Israeli and Jewish influence in Washington.

Standing alongside Hagel, Ya’alon said a nuclear-armed Iran would threaten not only Israel; “it would be a nightmare… for the entire globe.”

He said that despite its readiness to deploy military force, Jerusalem would prefer to resolve the Iranian nuclear threat via diplomatic channels.

While sanctions “were causing enormous difficulty for Iran,” Hagel said he supports President Barack Obama’s approach and echoed Washington’s refrain that “all options are on the table.”

The two men also discussed the ongoing civil war in Syria, reiterating that a deployment of chemical weapons there would not be tolerated.

If President Bashar Assad uses chemical weapons in Syria, “it would be a game changer,” Hagel said.

“We are ready to act if chemical weapons are transferred. We proved it when they crossed this red line,” Ya’alon said, a clear allusion to a February strike against Syrian targets — some reports said they were chemical weapons — allegedly carried out by IAF jets.

Upon his arrival in Israel on Sunday, Hagel told reporters the US and Israel see “exactly the same” threat from Iran, which he described as a toxic combination of nuclear ambition and support for terrorism.

But he acknowledged differences on when it may reach the point of requiring US or Israeli military action.

Hagel stressed repeatedly that Israel has a sovereign right to decide for itself whether it must attack Iran. “Israel will make the decision that Israel must make to protect itself, to defend itself,” Hagel said as he began a weeklong tour of the Middle East.

Mitch Ginsburg and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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