First Published: 2013-04-21

 

US-Israel arms deal steals limelight as Hagel begins first visit to Middle East

 

US Defence Secretary says major arms deal with Israel sends ‘very clear signal’ to Tehran that military action remains an option.

 

Middle East Online

Not too soft on Iran and not too hostile to Israel

TEL AVIV - A major US arms deal with Israel sends a "very clear signal" to Tehran that military action remains an option to stop it from going nuclear, US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters on Sunday.

In a two-day visit to Israel, Hagel will seek to counter criticism from some US lawmakers and pro-Israel groups that he is too soft on Iran and too hostile to Israel -- a charge he has vehemently rejected.

Hagel will likely tout the arms deal as a demonstration of Washington's commitment to Israel's security and as a way of countering Iran's military power and nuclear ambitions.

Asked if a multi-billion dollar arms package with Israel was designed to convey a message that a military strike remains an option, he said: "I don't think there's any question that's another very clear signal to Iran."

Hagel was speaking just before his plane touched down in Tel Aviv at the start of a six-day tour of the region focused on plans to sell $10 billion worth of advanced missiles and aircraft to Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in a bid to counter the threat posed by Iran.

The deal will see Israel obtaining anti-radiation missiles designed to take out enemy air defences, radar for fighter jets, aerial refuelling tankers and Osprey V-22 tilt-rotor transport aircraft.

It will also see the sale of US F-16 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates and sophisticated missiles to Saudi Arabia.

With the Gulf states anxious over Iran's nuclear and missile programs, the Pentagon has agreed to billions of dollars of arms sales designed to bolster the Arab nations' air power and missile defenses.

Details were unveiled on the eve of Hagel's departure on a trip which will focus heavily on tensions over Iran's nuclear programme and the civil war raging in Syria.

American and Israeli leaders have been at odds over Iran, with President Barack Obama's administration arguing that tough sanctions and diplomacy need to be given more time to work.

But Israel, believed to be the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear power, has repeatedly warned that time is running out and has refused to rule out a pre-emptive military strike to prevent Iran from obtaining an atomic weapons capability.

Hagel plans to discuss with his counterparts in the region the final details of the arms deal, and US officials have said it would be months or more for the new weapons and aircraft to be delivered.

The United States and Israel have disagreed over the urgency of the threat posed by Iran's nuclear program, with Washington maintaining there is still time to see if tough sanctions and diplomacy persuade Tehran to change course.

Hagel is due to tour the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem and meet Israel's Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, officials said.

His trip to Israel comes a month after President Barack Obama visited Jerusalem and reaffirmed US backing of Israel while promoting fresh attempts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

After Israel, Hagel will travel on to Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Hagel's visit coincides with growing suspicions that Syria may have used chemical weapons in its fight against opposition forces. Both Britain and France have submitted evidence to the United Nations alleging the regime fired chemical agents.

US intelligence agencies are taking the reports seriously but have to verify if the Syrian government employed some its deadly chemical arsenal, officials say.

The US administration, reluctant to provide arms to the Syrian rebels, has made clear its skeptical view of military intervention. Obama however has warned the Damascus regime that resorting to chemical weapons would constitute a "red line."

Hagel announced last week that he had ordered more US troops to Jordan to help prepare for a range of scenarios in Syria, including securing chemical weapons or handling a spillover of violence from the conflict.

The deployment of a US Army headquarters element brought the American military's presence in Jordan to more than 200.

 

Iran nuclear talks enter their final day

After a month-long battle, Tikrit 'liberated'

Kuwait emir pledges $500 million at Syria donors conference

Arab coalition pounds Yemeni capital

Ancient Libyan treasures now in ISIS' sights

Armed group takes prosecutor hostage in Istanbul

Palestine must wait for its day in court

UN rights chief expresses alarm on Yemen situation

Suicide blast in Iraq on bus carrying Iranian pilgrims

Iraq forces ‘retake’ government HQ in Tikrit

Massive power cut causes chaos across Turkey

Assad does not see Russia, Iran interests in Syria

Confidence in Tunisia ability to rebound as museum reopens to public

Iran claims US drone killed two military advisers in Iraq

Court finds ex-Israel Premier Olmert guilty in corruption retrial

Deadly air strike hits camp for displaced people in northwest Yemen

Erdogan insists on visit to Iran despite war-of-words

UN chief in Iraq for talks with top officials

UN warns of horrifying Syria 'catastrophe'

Iran asks for explanation on Erdogan comments

One day to Iran nuclear talks deadline

Yemen ex-president's son sacked as ambassador to UAE

At time of war, cigar business launched in Syria

Yemen Huthi rebels bombed for fifth night

Saudi police officers wounded in Riyadh drive-by shooting

World leaders show solidarity with Tunisia in march against extremism

Guarded optimism as Iran nuclear talks close in on deal

Dialogue remains distant as Arabs vow to defeat Iran 'puppet' in Yemen

Egypt renews calls for creation of joint military force at Arab summit

Saudi ambassador to return to Sweden after diplomatic spat

Libya forces ‘withdraw’ from frontline bases near oil ports

Qaeda seizes 'majority' of Syria northwestern city of Idlib

Torturous Iran talks move into top gear in battle of wills

UN Security Council keeps Libya arms embargo in place

Saudi-led airstrikes target arms depots in Yemen capital

Death toll from hotel attack rises as fighting continues in Somalia

Oil prices fall after Yemen-inspired gains

Turkish parliament passes security bill after long debate

Turkey army chief of staff visits historic tomb inside Syria

Saudi-led coalition keeps up raids against Yemen rebels

Assad says open to dialogue with US

US backs Saudi-led intervention in Yemen

Heavy Saudi raids force Sanaa residents to flee

Israeli Arab MP walks for Bedouins

Gulf stocks regain ground after early losses over Yemen