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Israel signs $3 billion arms deal with US

December 31, 2021

The Israeli Defense Ministry said it would buy 12 Lockheed Martin-Sikorsky helicopters and two Boeing refueling planes.

Boeing KC-46 Pegasus refueling aircraft
The deal is part of an upgrade of Israel's air force capabilities and includes an option to buy six additional choppersImage: Nikolai Novichkov/picture alliance/dpa/TASS

Israel has signed a deal with the United States to buy 12 Lockheed Martin-Sikorsky CH-53K helicopters and two Boeing KC-46 refueling planes, the Israeli Defence Ministry said on Friday.

The ministry said the deal is worth around $3.1 billion (€2.73 billion), adding that the procurement is "part of a wider program to strengthen the capabilities of the IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] and preparedness to face current and developing threats."

The deal, signed on Thursday, includes an option to buy six additional helicopters, the ministry statement said. It said the first helicopters were due to arrive in Israel in 2026.

An Israeli government committee gave the approval for the purchase last month after the Biden administration also waved it through in July.

The new helicopters will replace the Sikorsky CH-53 Yas’ur heavy-lift aircraft that have been in use since the late 1960s.

The deal comes days after a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said that the global arms industry was flourishing despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lockheed Martin-Sikorsky CH-53K helicopter
A Lockheed Martin-Sikorsky CH-53K helicopterImage: Michael Sohn/picture alliance/AP Photo

Planes could aid in attack on Iran: media

Israeli media have speculated that the refueling planes could be crucial for carrying out a long-threatened air strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. 

Israel, which opposes efforts by world powers to revive Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal, has wowed military action if diplomacy fails.

Iran insists its nuclear ambitions are peaceful, and earlier this month, conducted military drills in the Persian Gulf as a warning to Israel.

Aircraft to be modified with Israeli weaponry

Last month, Haaretz newspaper said the price for the Lockheed Martin helicopters included about $100 million per aircraft, and a supplement of $15-20 million per aircraft for the addition of electronic equipment and special weaponry.

The total price also includes simulators, training and maintenance over a five-year period.

Brigadier-General Shimon Tsentsiper, chief of materiel for the air force, told Israel's Army Radio on Thursday that the refueling planes on order would not be delivered before 2025.

He said Israel was trying to bring forward the delivery of the KC-46s, and eventually wanted a total of four of them.

'A violent confrontation is the last resort'

In May, the Biden administration signed off on a sale of $735 million in precision-guided weapons to Israel.

Some progressive Democrats have urged US Congress, which must approve these types of arms deals, to take a tougher stance against Israel's government. 

However, Israel is among a handful of countries whose military deals are approved under an expedited process.

With material from Reuters