By Cheryl Pellerin
In what Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called “a significant step in U.S.-Israeli defense cooperation,” he and his Israeli counterpart finalized an agreement today on a package of new defense capabilities the United States is offering Israel.
Hagel and Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon held a joint news conference at Israel’s defense headquarters, known as the Kirya, following talks here that both men characterized as positive.
“Minister Yaalon and I agreed that the United States will make available to Israel a set of advanced new military capabilities, … including antiradiation missiles and advanced radars for its fleet of fighter jets, KC-135 refueling aircraft, and most significantly, the V-22 Osprey, which the U.S. has not released to any other nation,” Hagel said.
The new radar and antiradiation missiles, along with Israel’s participation in the joint strike fighter program — a single-seat, single-engine, fifth-generation fighter under development to perform ground attack, reconnaissance and air defense missions with stealth capability — ensures that Israel will maintain air superiority for the next generation, Hagel said.
Introducing the V-22 into the Israeli air force, he added, will give that service long-range, high-speed maritime search-and rescue-capabilities to deal with a range of threats and contingencies.
“These decisions underscore that military-to-military cooperation between the U.S. and Israel is stronger than ever,” the secretary said, “and that defense cooperation will only continue to deepen in the future.”
In his remarks, Yaalon, appointed defense minister March 17, said the United States and Israel face common threats and challenges “in our tough neighborhood in the Middle East — above all, from Iran.” Iran threatens the security and stability of the Middle East and the entire world, he added.
“Iran threatens to wipe Israel off the map, it backs Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, and it is assisting the Syrian regime to kill tens of thousands of innocent civilians,” the Israeli defense minister said. “The Iran regime is involved in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan and more, and Iran is developing nuclear weapons.”
Today’s talks continue what Yaalon called an intimate dialogue between the United States and Israel on the best ways to meet such challenges.
“In every case, Israel prefers diplomatic solutions,” he said, “though as President [Barack] Obama stated, Israel has a right to defend itself, by itself” against any adversary.
Addressing Hagel, Yaalon noted U.S. support for Israel. “We see your commitment in Iron Dome and other antimissile systems that save lives,” he said. “We see your commitment in the joint strike fighter program and the presidential approval of other advanced capabilities such as the V-22 for Israel. We see your commitment in our joint military maneuvers and our extensive intelligence sharing — all part of our comprehensive security cooperation and dialogue. We see your commitment in your determination to uphold Israel’s qualitative military edge.
“We see it all, Mr. Secretary, and we are deeply grateful,” he added.
Hagel said the United States and Israel share values, common interests and an unbreakable bond that grows stronger over time.
“These common interests include security for our citizens, a peaceful and stable Middle East, countering terrorism, and countering nonproliferation, particularly our efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” he said.
The United States is committed to providing Israel with whatever support it needs to maintain military superiority over any state, coalition of states or nonstate actors, the secretary added.
“Despite fiscal pressures, President Obama has ensured that Israel receives an all-time high of $3.1 billion in foreign military financing this year,” Hagel said.
“Last month in Jerusalem, President Obama announced that the United States and Israel would begin work on a new multiyear memorandum of understanding.”
The memorandum would extend security funding for Israel beyond 2017, when the current agreement expires, he noted.
DOD and Israel’s Defense Ministry work together routinely to ensure that both forces have capabilities in place to deal with changing security environments, the secretary said.
The capabilities include major advances in cooperative rocket and missile defense efforts between the United States and Israel, including Iron Dome, a system that counters rockets, artillery and mortars; the Arrow, a family of anti-ballistic missiles; and David’s Sling, an inside-the-atmosphere, two-stage weapon built to counter ballistic missiles, medium-range rockets, cruise missiles and other aircraft and weapons.
“Since its deployment, the Iron Dome system has saved many lives, and we are continuing to build on the program’s success,” Hagel said. “To date, the United States has provided more than $460 million to support [that] program, and we are requesting another $220 million in our fiscal year 2014 defense budget request for Israel to acquire additional Iron Dome batteries.”
The secretary added that he and Obama are committed to a strong and secure Israel, and to deepening the historic security cooperation between the two nations.
Later today, Hagel will meet with Israeli President Shimon Peres, and tomorrow he will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Today’s visit was part of a six-day trip to the Middle East, Hagel’s first as defense secretary. He will make stops in Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates before returning to the United States on April 26.