Hagel goes to Israel bearing gifts of radar and Ospreys
By Christa Case Bryant, CS Monitor, April 23, 2013
Jerusalem—US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel brought presents for his first trip to Israel, where his nomination earlier this year stirred concern that he would be too soft on Iran and leave Israel vulnerable before its most feared enemy.
A deal finalized yesterday in Tel Aviv will provide Israel with advanced radar systems, missiles designed to take out an enemy’s anti-aircraft defenses, and V-22 Osprey aircraft, which combines the agility of a helicopter with the speed of a plane and has never before been sold outside the US. The deal is tangible proof of the commitment to Israel’s security that President Obama avowed on his trip here last month.
But this is more than a sop to America’s closest ally in the Middle East. It is part of a broader $10 billion regional arms package designed to bolster jittery allies and deter Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons, says Michael Eisenstadt, director of the Washington Institute’s Military and Security Studies Program.
It reportedly includes more than two dozen F-16 fighter jets for the United Arab Emirates and advanced new missiles for both the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
"Overall, this is an important deal in terms of reassuring our allies, but the most important thing to be done—more than arms sales—is the president establishing good working relationships with all these countries," says Mr. Eisenstadt, whose career has included stints in Iraq, Israel, and the West Bank. "Because there’s no substitute for the confidence that comes from a good personal relationship … especially in the Middle East."
The deal announced this week may bolster Israel’s capabilities to launch an attack against Iran and could also give it a longer time frame for doing so. Better, or at least more, refueling planes will increase its capacity for long-distance missions, and anti-radiation missiles would preserve Israel’s ability to launch an air strike even if Iran obtained more advanced anti-aircraft defense systems.
And the Ospreys could help with missions to Libya and Sudan, which have emerged as origins or stopover points for Iranian shipments of arms to Gaza. Likewise, if the Assad regime were to fall in Syria and Iran had to find new land routes for weapons shipments to Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Ospreys would provide additional options for Israel to target such shipments, says Eisenstadt.
Strengthening Israel’s ability to interdict such arms transfers reduces Iran’s ability to use militant groups to launch proxy attacks on Israel, including retaliatory strikes in the event of an Israeli strike on Iran.
The US-Israel deal is not seen as a green light to attack Iran on its own, however. Quite the contrary.
"I think [Hagel] arrived here … to emphasize that the US is expecting Israel not to attack by itself," says Reuven Pedhazur, an analyst of Israeli security affairs. The message is, "Don’t do anything by yourself."