Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has canceled a still-unsigned multi-billion-dollar deal with the US for advanced military capabilities, amid strained ties with Washington.
The deal includes six V-22 aircraft, which the US has not released to any other country.
The decision, first reported by Israel Hayom and coming a week after Ya’alon was reportedly shunned by official Washington during a visit to the US, drew no comment from the Defense Ministry or the IDF.
The V-22 Osprey, which can land and take off vertically like a helicopter with propellers, but can fly with a fixed wing both as fast and as far as a plane, was seen as part of Israel’s future capacity to move Special Forces troops to countries as distant as Iran.
The Osprey “is the ideal platform for sending Israeli special forces into Iran,” Kenneth Pollack, a former CIA analyst currently at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy, told USA Today in 2013.
The aircraft can carry up to two dozen soldiers, can fly roughly 720 kilometers and, crucially, can be re-fueled in midflight.
US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced the deal during a visit to Israel in April 2013. “The introduction of the V-22 into the Israeli Air Force will give the Israeli air force long range, high-speed maritime search and rescue capabilities to deal with a number of threats and contingencies,” he said during a joint press conference with Ya’alon.
The deal was to include, Hagel said at the time, anti-radiation missiles, advanced radars for Israel’s F-15s, KC-135 refueling aircraft and, “most significantly,” the V-22.
Ya’alon, according to Yoav Limor’s account in Israel Hayom, decided to cancel the acquisition, against the advice of the IDF chief of General Staff and the Israel Air Force’s commander, on account of budgetary constraints and lessons learned in the wake of the 50-day battle in Gaza this summer, during which a need for improved armored vehicles, for instance, rose to the surface.
The reported decision to cancel the deal came three days after Israeli officials said the army would buy a second squadron of US-made F-35 fighter jets.
That news came amid strained ties between Israel and the US. A Tuesday story in The Atlantic magazine reported that senior administration officials had called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “a chickenshit” and alleged the relationship between the countries was in crisis.
Ya’alon, who has been outwardly critical of US policies in the past, visited the US earlier this month, though he was kept from any high-level meetings and only granted a sit-down with Hagel. Analysts saw the US snubbing as sign of a rift in ties, though American and Israeli officials have maintained that the relationship remains strong as ever,.
The cancellation of the deal, at this time, could be seen as adding fuel to the fire. Hagel, in the joint April press conference in Tel Aviv, said, “These decisions” — to acquire the V-22 — “underscore that the military-to-military cooperation between the US and Israel is stronger than ever and that defense cooperation will only continue to deepen in the future.”
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