The Defense Ministry announced on Thursday that it has selected Italy’s Alenia
Aermacchi M-346 Master as the next advanced combat trainer for the Israel Air
The decision is expected to lead to a crisis with South Korea,
which had pushed hard to win the $1 billion deal. Seoul has claimed that Israel
favored Italy throughout the competition and that the tender was not conducted
according to “international standards.”
On Thursday, Defense Ministry
director-general Udi Shani convened a meeting of IAF and ministry officials to
rule on the tender. According to the decision, the IAF will begin receiving 30
of the Italian fighter jets starting in 2014.
In return, Italy will
commit to purchase just over $1b. of military platforms from Israeli defense
companies, including satellites and airborne warning and control system (AWACS)
The new trainer will replace the IAF Skyhawk – known in Israel
as the Ayit – which first arrived in the country in 1967 after the Six Day War.
It was the first fighter jet the US agreed to sell Israel.
prominently in the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and the First Lebanon War in
After that war, the IAF phased out the Ayit from operational
service and began using it as an advanced trainer for pilot’s course cadets who
complete their initial flight training on the Fougas aircraft. (The Fougas was
also recently replaced by the Beechcraft T6 turboprop trainer).
between Seoul and Jerusalem peaked this week in meetings Defense Minister Ehud
Barak and Shani held with Korean officials on the sidelines of the Singapore Air
Show. Before the decision was announced, Korea’s ambassador to Israel Ilsoo Kim
said on Thursday: “Just like the expectations are high, the disappointment will
also be great.”
Korea has expressed interest in purchasing new refueling
tankers from Israel Aerospace Industries as well as the Iron Dome counter-rocket
defense system from Rafael Advanced Defense Systems. Those deals are now
believed to be in jeopardy.
A senior defense official expressed hope that
Korea would not take drastic steps such as cutting off ties with
“We hope not to reach that stage,” the official said. “We
understand them and it is only natural for them to be upset.”