On Monday in Tel Aviv U.S. defense secretary Chuck Hagel and Israeli defense minister Moshe Yaalon announced the finalizing of a major U.S.-Israeli arms deal. At a reported cost of $10 billion, Israel gets Bell Boeing V-22 transport helicopters (known as Ospreys), Boeing KC-135 in-flight refueling planes, advanced radar systems for fighter planes, and anti-radiation missiles.
It’s part of a larger deal, first reported in the New York Times last week, that also involves Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. A U.S. official calls it “one of the most complex and carefully orchestrated arms sale packages in American history.”
And its focus is Iran. As far as Israel is concerned, all the hardware it’s getting enhances its ability to carry out long-range operations.
Hagel, for his part, was explicit about it. On the way to Israel, he told reporters that “Israel will make the decisions that Israel must make to protect itself, to defend itself.” He also called the sale a “very clear signal to Iran.”
Aharon Lapidot, a veteran Israeli military analyst and now deputy editor of popular conservative daily Israel Hayom, notes that “Israel will be the first country in the world to get the Osprey outside of the U.S.” and that it will “give the Israeli Air Force an advanced, modern aircraft….”
Lapidot also describes the Boeing KC-135 refueler as “of the utmost tactical importance” and as allowing Israel’s fighter jets “to partake in operations far from the country’s borders…. There is no doubt this is a force multiplier for the IAF.”
Or as Hagel himself put it, the sale will “ensure Israel’s air superiority in the future and allow the Israeli Air Force long-range capabilities.”
Yes, that’s the same Chuck Hagel whose nomination by President Obama was, not long ago, the subject of strong criticism—all of it well justified by his track record of anti-Israeli, anti-“Jewish lobby,” soft-on-terror, soft-on-Iran statements.
Apart from the fact that Chuck Hagel is now a responsibility-wielding U.S. official, what has changed?
For one thing, Israel’s image is changing from Oppressor of the Palestinians to Rising Regional Military and Economic Power—a status further augmented as Israel’s vast, recently-discovered offshore natural-gas deposits start to come online. It was also reported Monday that Jordan, fearful of the chaos in Syria, is allowing Israeli planes to use its airspace. And that even some measure of Israeli-Turkish rapprochement may be in the works.
According to the law of the jungle, the bigger and more powerful you get, the more “friends”—or tacit allies—you have. Especially when these tacit allies are scared out of their wits by Iran’s march toward nukes and various possible horrific scenarios in Syria.
As for the Obama administration, even though not long ago it was convinced that Israeli building in Judea and Jerusalem was the real fulcrum of the region’s woes, these developments aren’t lost on it. As the Syrian crisis intensifies and the Iranian danger mounts, it is simply impossible not to appreciate Israel’s stability, intelligence capabilities, and military potentials. Especially when Washington’s Arab allies keep making clear that for them, the Palestinian issue takes a distant backseat to their dread of the regional threats.
Does this mean Israel would be overjoyed to be the one to strike Iran? Not at all. The United States still has much greater capabilities to do it and, as a superpower, has the responsibility to do it. But with the U.S. overtly building up Israel’s capabilities and repeatedly affirming Israel’s right to look out for its own security, it will be very hard for the Obama administration to condemn or penalize Israel if Israel—impatient with the U.S. timeline on Iran’s nukes—decides to take matters in its hands.
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