The AFP reported that the Pentagon formally notified Congress on Tuesday that it plans on selling six tilt-rotor Osprey aircraft to Israel. Israel is the first country allowed to purchase the aircraft as part of a long term deal worth $1.13 billion.
The deal, which was first announced last year, became finalized on Tuesday. U.S. lawmakers will have 15 days to raise any opposition to the sale. According to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the package also includes missile warning systems, radar, night vision goggles, radios, navigation equipment, and additional equipment for the Osprey aircraft.
In a statement released by the Agency, the arms package will drastically improve the special operations capabilities of Israel. “The V-22B provides the capability to move personnel and equipment to areas not accessible by fixed wing lift assets,” allowing Israeli forces improved access to previously inaccessible areas. The V-22 Osprey can take off like a helicopter but fly like a turboprop plane.
The U.S. provides $3.1 billion in annual military aid to Israel. In March 2013, U.S. President Barack Obama extended military aid to Israel through 2027. Two months ago, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel expedited the sale of the six aircraft. Heavily used by Marines in Afghanistan and the Air Force for special operations, the Osprey had a stint of technical problems and accidents in its early years.
The report of the sale comes at a precipitous time in U.S.-Israel relations. Just this week, as reported by Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon called U.S. Secretary of State “inexplicably obsessive” and “messianic,” referring to Kerry’s efforts at creating a framework for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Ya’alon was also reported saying that Kerry has “nothing to teach me about the conflict with the Palestinians. All that can ‘save us’ is for John Kerry to win a Nobel Prize and leave us in peace.” The Defense Minister later apologized for his remarks.
In related news, last Thursday a US-Iranian citizen was arrested in New Jersey when he was caught trying to smuggle blueprints for the F-35 joint strike fighter plane into Iran. The F-35 is the Pentagon’s most advanced fighter aircraft. Israel is set to update its existing air fleet with the F-35 beginning in 2017. At a cost of $150 million each, the F-35 purchase has taken a huge chunk of the IDF’s budget.
Mozaffar Khazaee, 49, worked for defense contractor Pratt & Whitney as an engineer. The plans were found among 44 boxes labeled “household goods” that were being shipped to Khazaee’s brother-in-law in Iran via California. Khazaee was arrested at Newark Liberty International Airport by federal authorities as he was on his way to Iran via Frankfurt, Germany. He faces up to ten years in prison.