TEL AVIV — Israeli executives and security experts have assailed a US arms package that headlined Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s visit here last week as high on hype but short on substance, insisting Israel has neither the budget nor operational need for the capabilities promised by Washington.
In his first visit here as Pentagon chief, Hagel said V-22 Ospreys, KC-135 tankers, anti-radiation missiles and advanced radars for Israeli fighters would augment Israel’s qualitative military edge and ensure next-generation air superiority.
At an April 22 press conference with Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Bogey Ya’alon, Hagel said the two chiefs “agreed that the United States will make available to Israel a set of advanced new military capabilities … which the US has not released to any other nation.”
But sources here said such claims are misleading, and questioned the extraordinary publicity generated by typically closed-door deliberations on prospective sales not yet notified to the US Congress.
“It’s one thing to make grand promises, but are these capabilities destined only for us? And are they willing to deliver under terms and conditions that answer our immediate security needs?” said the board chairman of a state-owned defense firm.
“If the answer, as I suspect, is no,” the executive continued, “then you need to ask if our American friends generated the headlines and hype to rationalize their sales of very troubling advanced technology to our neighbors.”
Sources from both countries acknowledged that despite the premature publicity, no agreement has been reached on the arms package. Negotiations on cost, quantities, terms and delivery schedules will only begin in late May or early June.
“The secretary probably meant to say that when the government of Israel is ready, it is welcome to submit letters of request for the mentioned systems,” a US defense source said.
Military planners and industry executives also challenged Hagel’s claim that US systems on offer are destined only for Israel.
Five nations now operate KC-135s, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and officials here noted that Israel declined at least twice in the past decade acquisition opportunities due to the prohibitive cost of reconditioning slow and aging tankers.
As for the Osprey, the Pentagon’s V-22 Joint Program Office and Fort Worth, Texas-based Bell-Boeing have been negotiating for more than a year with the United Arab Emirates to forestall a 2018 phase-out of the tilt-rotor production line.
Not a Priority
While Israel’s Ground Forces commander has supported the Air Force’s desire for the V-22, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) General Staff has not endorsed it as a priority in its upcoming five-year plan.
Maj. Gen. Nimrod Sheffer, IDF chief of planning, did not mention the V-22 in his April 23 presentation of the military’s multiyear plan at a security conference.
When asked by retired Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, director of Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), why the V-22 wasn’t included, Sheffer replied, “The program I presented here didn’t mention V-22 since it is a very recent development.”
The tilt-rotor offers “capabilities that the state of Israel does not currently have,” but , without additional funding, the plan could not accommodate the V-22.
Referring to US commitments to begin negotiations toward a 10-year agreement to extend military aid through 2027, Sheffer said, “There may be add-ons to the American contributions, and this was discussed by President [Barack] Obama and the US secretary of defense.”
A senior MoD official said Israel hopes to acquire up to eight V-22s soon, with some $800 million in funding to come from the 10-year agreement under negotiation.
After Hagel’s press conference here, the official said MoD would discuss “all kinds of possible scenarios ... to see if we can defer payment on early deliveries.”
Too Late for Iran
Defense planners say other elements of the Pentagon’s preapproved package would extend Israel’s long-range capabilities but not soon enough to make a difference in a prospective attack on Iran.
Yadlin, a former head of Israeli military intelligence, said Israel must decide soon whether to use force against Iran.
“Israel is rapidly nearing the crossroads where it will have to decide whether to live with [an Iranian nuclear bomb] or go for a bombing operation,” Yadlin said.
Even if Washington quickly provided additional short-term emergency funding, experts here said it would take a year or longer to integrate and certify the new capabilities for operational contingencies.
Preliminary talks are focusing on active electronically scanned array radars to be retrofitted into F-15Is and three relatively newer versions of US Air Force KC-135R refuelers scheduled for deactivation.
Another element of the prospective package, and the only capability not approved for a foreign customer, involves the US-Italy AGM-88E Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile. According to the US Navy’s Naval Air Command website, the extended-range missile is optimized to destroy enemy integrated air defenses.
With Israel’s window for unilateral action against the Iranian nuclear threat now measured in months, experts here have discredited Pentagon claims that the prospective arms package constitutes a meaningful warning to Iran.
“We believe the president of the United States cannot and will not violate his promise to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. But the problem is, the Iranians don’t believe him,” Yadlin said.