JERUSALEM – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel arrived in Israel on Sunday to put the finishing touches on a complicated $10 billion arms deal with three Mideastern countries, saying the pact sends a very clear signal to Iran.
Under preliminary terms of the agreement, the United States would sell tilt-rotor V-22 Osprey aircraft –which can take off like a helicopter but cruise at airplane speed – to Israel. It would be the first time the Pentagon has approved a foreign sale of the Osprey, which can carry combat troops and are prized for their maneuverability.
The United States also would provide Israel with KC-135 refueling planes, which could extend the range of Israeli fighters and bombers so that they could be used for an attack on a country like Iran. Israel also would acquire advanced missiles for its warplanes.
Hagel has visited Israel several times previously, including during his 12 years as a Republican senator from Nebraska, but this is his first visit since he became defense secretary in February. Hagel was narrowly confirmed by the Senate after some pro-Israel groups vigorously opposed his nomination, arguing that he was insufficiently supportive of the Jewish state and too soft on Iran.
Speaking to reporters aboard his military aircraft, Hagel was reluctant to reopen that painful debate, saying that his confirmation hearing was years ago.
He also took pains to emphasize that the United States and Israel both regard Iran as a clear threat that must be prevented from developing nuclear weapons. He emphasized Israel’s right to self-defense and repeated that the Obama administration would not rule out military action to stop Iran from building nuclear bombs.
I don’t think there’s any daylight there, he said, referring to the U.S. and Israeli stances toward Iran.
But Hagel acknowledged that the Obama administration and Israel do not share the same assessments about how close Iran is to developing nuclear weapons and whether international sanctions and diplomacy can be successful.