* Deal would maintain Israel's military edge, officials say
* UAE would buy 25 F-16 Desert Falcons for nearly $5 billion
* Israel considering purchase of 5-6 V-22 Ospreys, source
By David Alexander
WASHINGTON, April 19 The United States is
finalizing a complex $10 billion arms deal that would strengthen
two key Arab allies while maintaining Israel's military edge,
defense officials said on Friday ahead of a trip to the Middle
East by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
The deal, more than a year in the making through a series of
coordinated bilateral negotiations, would result in the sale of
V-22 Osprey aircraft, advanced refueling tankers and anti-air
defense missiles to Israel and 25 F-16 Desert Falcon jets worth
nearly $5 billion to the United Arab Emirates.
The UAE and Saudi Arabia also would be allowed to purchase
weapons with "stand-off" capabilities - those that can be used
to engage the enemy with precision at a greater distance,
defense officials said.
The deal marks the first time the United States has offered
to sell tilt-rotor Ospreys to another country, and the
"stand-off" weapons would give Saudi Arabia and the UAE a more
advanced capability than they have had in the past, said the
defense officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"This is one of the most complex and carefully orchestrated
arms sale packages in American history," one of the officials
said. "That's not just because of the kinds of equipment that
we're providing to Israel and Saudi Arabia and the Emirates.
It's also a reflection of intensive defense shuttle diplomacy."
The announcement comes amid mounting concerns over Iran's
nuclear program, with little progress reported at talks this
month between Iran and world powers. U.S. officials concede that
crippling sanctions have so far failed to force concessions from
Tehran, which insists its nuclear program is peaceful.
Israel has renewed warnings it reserves the right to resort
to military action to stop what it says is Iran's pursuit of
ISRAEL'S MILITARY EDGE
U.S. defense officials touted the arms deals as the
culmination of President Barack Obama's effort to find a way to
boost the military capabilities of key Arab allies in light of
the threats in the region while still fulfilling the U.S. policy
of maintaining Israel's military superiority.
"This not only sustains but augments Israel's qualitative
military edge in the region," one of the officials said. "This
package is a significant advance for Israel. ... This is about
giving all three partners in the region added capacity to
address key threats that they may face down the road."
The announcement of the deal came as Hagel was preparing for
his first trip to Middle East since taking office in February.
He planned to visit Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the
UAE and was expected to continue discussions about the arms sale
at stops along the way.
Defense officials said the Congress had not been formally
notified of the arms sale as part of the approval process. That
will come once the different countries finalize their purchase
decisions and submit formal letters of request.
While the arms negotiations with the different countries
were carried out bilaterally, defense officials said they had
been transparent with all sides about the effort to boost the
military capacities of all sides to address regional threats.
Sources familiar with the arms sales plans said Israel had
asked to buy five or six V-22 Ospreys, built by Boeing Co
and Textron Inc's Bell Helicopter unit, at an estimated
price of about $70 million apiece.
The UAE also is interested in purchasing the tilt-rotor
aircraft, which takes off and lands like a helicopter but flies
like a plane, the sources said. But that sale is likely to be
included in a separate deal.
The United States sold Saudi Arabia 84 F-15 jets for $29
billion in 2010, planes that are now beginning to roll off the
assembly line and undergo testing, officials said.