Israel has the right to decide for itself whether to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities, US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told reporters on Sunday.
Hagel’s statement echoed the position US President Barack Obama expressed during his March visit.
“Iran presents a threat in its nuclear program and Israel will make the decisions that Israel must make to protect itself and defend itself,” Hagel told American reporters on his plane before touching down in Israel.
The deal is part of a larger arms sale involving the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia – both of which are threatened by Tehran – and will total $10 billion.
“The bottom line is that Iran is a threat, a real threat,” Hagel said. “The Iranians must be prevented from developing that capacity to build a nuclear weapon and deliver it,” he said aboard the plane.
The UAE is to receive 25 F- 16 Fighting Falcon jets, and, along with Saudi Arabia, will be allowed to buy weapons with so-called “standoff” capabilities that enable it to engage the enemy with precision at a distance. Defense officials explained that the “standoff” arms would give the two countries more sophisticated systems than they currently have.
Hagel was joined by Ya’alon at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem on Sunday. The US secretary of defense laid a wreath at the Hall of Remembrance.
After signing the museum’s guest book, Hagel told reporters that “this magnificent institution” reminds “all mankind of the depths of evil, but also the promise and hope and courage of man,” and serves as a “beautiful and important tribute to those victims of the past and [as an] instruction and reminder to generations of the future.”
“Future generations” as well as those in “our time here” must be prepared for “a clear understanding that we must never allow [the genocide of the Holocaust] to happen again,” he said.
Hagel, who faced resistance during his Senate confirmation hearing earlier this year from lawmakers who questioned his support for Israel, said part of the purpose of his visit was to underscore to Israelis that “the United States is committed to their security.”
But he added the United States and other countries believed there was still time for diplomacy and tough international sanctions on Iran to have an impact.
“The military option is one option that remains on the table, must remain on the table,” he said. “But military options, I think most of us feel, should be the last option.”
After Israel, Hagel will visit Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. His trip comes amid mounting concerns about regional stability due to Iran’s nuclear program, the rocky transition to civilian rule in Egypt and the civil war in Syria.
Reuters contributed to this report.