JERUSALEM — As part of a $1.68 billion deal between Israel and Greece — the largest-ever defense agreement between the two countries — the Hellenic Air Force will acquire 10 M-346 aircraft and Israel’s Elbit Systems will establish a flight school and maintain training aircraft.
Israel will also provide simulators, training and logistical support as part of the 20-year deal. It is part of an increasingly close relationship between Athens and Jerusalem that has seen Greece lease Israeli drones and also involved a pipeline deal signed last year.
Israeli Defense Ministry Benny Gantz said the deal reflected the excellent and developing relations with Greece. “It is a long-term partnership that will serve the interests of both Israel and Greece, create hundreds of jobs in both countries and promote stability in the Mediterranean,” he said, commending “recent strengthening of defense relations between our countries” and noting “my expectation that these will deepen further.”
Israel’s Ministry of Defense participated in a tender and won the bid for the Greek contract. The flight school will be built and maintained by Elbit Systems.
The company’s CEO, Bezhalel Machlis, said the new capability will strengthen bilateral relations. “This selection attests to the leading position we hold in the area of training, providing tested know-how and proven technologies that improve readiness while reducing costs.”
Israel’s Directorate for International Defense Cooperation within the MoD, also known as SIBAT, will sign the deal along with Elbit Systems. “This is not just a defense export agreement, but rather a partnership for at least 20 years,” SIBAT head Yair Kulas said. “I would like to thank the Greek Ministry of National Defense for its trust and for assigning this important task to the Israel Ministry of Defense and our excellent defense industry.”
The flight school will be based on Israel’s flight academy, and Leonardo will provide the M-346 trainers. Leonardo has previously partnered with Elbit on simulators, according to reports last year. The M-346 is called the “Lavi” in Israel and was selected by the country in 2012 for training pilots. T-6 trainers will also be maintained as part of the historic bilateral deal.
The Israeli government said the future could hold cooperation between the Israeli and Greek flight academies. Israel trained with Greek pilots in the Blue Flag drills last year.
Seth Frantzman has been covering conflict in the Middle East since 2010 as a researcher, analyst and correspondent for different publications. He has experience covering the international coalition against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, and he is a co-founder and executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis.