[preparing for aggression] Israel signs $3bn deal for US helicopters, refueling planes

Israeli Sikorsky helicopters in the skies of the Negev-Naqab desert (AFP)

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  December 31, 2021

Purchase comes as Israel warns it is willing to act alone to ensure Iran doesn’t obtain nuclear weapon.

Israel on Thursday signed a deal worth roughly $3.1bn to purchase 12 Lockheed Martin heavy transport helicopters and two Boeing KC-46 refueling planes from the United States, the Israeli government announced on Friday.

The defence ministry said the purchase was “part of a wider program to strengthen the capabilities” of the Israeli military and its “preparedness to face current and developing threats”.

The agreement also gives Israel the option to purchase six additional helicopters, a ministry statement said. It added that the first helicopters were due to arrive in Israel in 2026.

Israeli media reported that the new helicopters would replace the country’s ageing fleet of Sikorsky CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters, which the country has been using since the late 1960s.

The funds for the purchase will be provided by US military aid, of which Israel is the largest international recipient.

In 2016, the two countries signed their third 10-year memorandum of understanding, with the US pledging to supply $38bn in military assistance to the country.

The deal announced on Friday is part of a wider upgrade of Israel’s air force capabilities, and goes along with the procurement of new F35 aircraft and “advanced air munition, air defense systems, new marine, and land platforms as well as cyber systems,” the defence ministry said.

Tensions in the region have continued to run high as Israel and Washington’s Arab partners monitor ongoing nuclear talks between international powers and Iran in Vienna.

Israel and Iran have been engaged in a dangerous shadow war across the region. On Tuesday, Israel reportedly conducted a large air strike on Iranian military assets in Syria.

Tel Aviv has repeatedly warned that it is willing to act alone to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

The purchase of additional refueling planes, which could support Israeli fighter jets in the event of long-range operations, has been a priority for the country.

Israel media reported in December that Israeli officials had asked the Biden administration to expedite an earlier purchase of Boeing refueling planes, but the request had been rejected as the aircraft were on backorder.