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.


Syria army launches broad ground operation in Hama province

Israel-Palestinian unrest at risk of turning into religious war

EU to ease Turkey migrant burden on conditions

IS bombings will not deter Yemen govt from staying in Aden

Number of confirmed cholera cases rises to 1,200 in Iraq

Russia ‘ready’ to establish contacts with Free Syrian Army

Turkey arrests six people over 'minting coins for ISIS’

What does Iran nuclear deal mean for Syria?

US insists no military cooperation with Russia in Syria conflict

ISIS attack complicates task for Arab coalition in Yemen

Russia warships fire cruise missiles to back Syria army operation

Escape or temporary move: Erdogan son settles in Italy

New violence rocks Israel, West Bank

Mortar attack wounds Lebanon soldiers near border with Syria

Iraq forces recapture several areas around Ramadi

Saleh’s party ‘ready’ for UN-brokered Yemen peace

Erdogan’s vision of Syria’s future torn up by Putin

EU kicks off military operation against ‘mafia of the sea’

Russia air strikes targeting Chechen jihadists in Syria

Russia examining US proposals to coordinate Syria strikes

Russia hints at willingness on Syria 'deconfliction' with US

France may strip five terrorists of nationality

Israel demolition policy: Collective punishment in violation of international law

Violence in Yemen may trigger world's next great refugee crisis

EU to 'step up' work on resettlement of refugees from Turkey

Tunisia dismantles three ISIS recruitment cells

Russia not cooperating with US in Syria safety talks

Halal economy set to grow worldwide

‘Islamic State’ claims series of deadly attacks in Yemen

Recent unrest leaves Netanyahu with tough political choices

NATO accuses Russia of violating Turkey airspace

Unpaid teachers in Iraq Kurdistan go on strike to end ‘farce’

Erdogan warns Russia not to destroy friendship with Turkey

Arab coalition troops among 15 killed in Yemen attacks

Russia has created ‘de facto no-fly zone’ for Assad

Is pro-Sisi parliament a given?

NATO warns Russia airspace violations risk inflaming tensions

Turkey urges EU to do more to topple Assad

Iran threatens boycott Frankfurt Book Fair over Rushdie’s invite

Libya rival factions resume peace talks in Morocco

Opening of Baghdad’s Green Zone to public worries US

Yemen PM escapes unharmed in Aden rocket attack

UK top counter-terrorism official accuses social media of 'undermining' investigations

Lebanon lawmakers nearly come to blows in televised meeting

Gulf Arab forces take back strategic island in Yemen