Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Sunday a $10 billion arms deal under discussion with Washington’s Arab and Israeli allies sent a “very clear signal” to Tehran the military option remains on the table over its nuclear program.
“The bottom line is that Iran is a threat, a real threat,” said Hagel, who arrived in Israel on Sunday on his first visit to Israel as defense secretary.
“The Iranians must be prevented from developing that capacity to build a nuclear weapon and deliver it,” he told reporters on his plane.
The first stop on Hagel’s week-long Middle East trip came two days after the Pentagon said it was finalizing a weapons deal to strengthen the militaries of Israel and two of Iran’s key rivals – Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The deal includes the sale of KC-135 aerial refueling tankers, anti-air defense missiles and tilt-rotor V-22 Osprey troop transport planes to Israel as well as the sale of 25 F-16 Fighting Falcon jets to the UAE.
The UAE and Saudi Arabia also would be allowed to purchase weapons with so-called “stand-off” capabilities that enable them to engage the enemy with precision at a distance. Defense officials said the “stand-off” arms would give the two countries more sophisticated systems than they currently have.
Asked if the arms deal sent a message that the military option was on the table if Tehran moved to build a nuclear weapon, Hagel said: “I don’t think there’s any question that that’s another very clear signal to Iran.”
But he added the military option had been “very clear to Iran for some time” and said the arms deal was a continuation of the U.S. policy to maintain Israel’s so-called “qualitative military edge” in the region, a general reference to the supply of advanced U.S.-made weaponry and technology to the Jewish state. (…)