JERUSALEM, April 19 U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck
Hagel hopes to finalise a major arms deal with Saudi Arabia and
the United Arab Emirates during a visit to the Middle East this
week, and also discuss fresh military supplies to Israel, an
Israeli official said on Friday.
The accord is worth $10 billion and will help the three
countries counter any threat from Iran, the New York Times
Hagel arrives in Israel on April 20, where he will discuss
the civil war in neighbouring Syria and Iran's contested nuclear
programme. He will later hold talks in Jordan, Saudi Arabia,
Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
Asked to comment on the New York Times report, an Israeli
official confirmed that Washington "wants to close a major arms
deal" with the Saudis and the UAE, and also "wants to preserve
Israel's qualitative edge, in parallel".
He said Israel was weighing a U.S. offer to sell it missiles
designed to take out air-defence radars, advanced radar systems
for warplanes, refuelling tanker planes and a guided munitions
system, about which the official would not elaborate.
These systems would be paid for with U.S. defence grants,
the Israeli official said. Israel is the largest single
recipient of U.S. foreign aid, with military assistance expected
to total upwards of $3 billion for the current fiscal year.
The New York Times said that while Washington wanted to
improve Israeli capabilities it did not want to seem to be
endorsing any "accelerated planning" by Israel to launch a
unilateral strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.
Iran is at odds with the United States and its allies over
its disputed nuclear activities which the West fears are aimed
at making nuclear weapons, and Gulf Arab states have accused
Iran of interference in the region, a charge it rejects.
Hagel's visit to Israel follows a trip to Israel by
President Barack Obama last month and three visits in quick
succession by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who is looking
to revive long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
(Reporting by Dan Williams; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan;
editing by Mike Collett-White)