It might not be as fateful as the potential bombing of Iran’s nuclear
facilities, but the competition over the Israel Air Force’s future trainer
aircraft is a saga of significant political and economic
The Defense Ministry had planned on issuing a request for
proposal for a new training aircraft to replace the IAF’s aging fleet of
Skyhawks – which are used in training before pilots fly F16s – earlier this
summer but due to uncertainty regarding the defense budget the plans have been
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Defense officials now believe the proposal will be issued by
the end of the year, meaning a decision will be made sometime in the beginning
The competition is between Korea Aerospace Industries’ T-50 and
and Italy’s Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Master.
Earlier this week, South
Korea’s Ambassador to Israel Isloo Kim met with Defense Ministry Director-
General Udi Shani to discuss the deal. On Thursday, Kim denied a report in
Haaretz that claimed he had threatened Shani that Seoul would cancel its defense
ties with Israel if it lost the competition.
“It was a cordial meeting
and no threats were made and the story distorted what happened,” Kim told The
Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
“This is a commercial deal and the companies
involved are negotiating. It will not affect the relations between our
The Post has also learned the Italian government is in talks
with the Defense Ministry about the possibility the deal will be done by barter
and Italy will receive two AWACS aircraft from Israel Aerospace
The IAF is seeking between 25 and 35 jets in a deal that is
expected to reach $1 billion.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is close
friends with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi who is lobbying for Israel
to choose the M-346. Diplomatic officials are concerned that if Israel rejects
the Italian plane it could sour ties between Jerusalem and Rome, one of Israel’s
closest friends in Europe.
On the other hand, Israel stands to lose
economically if it rejects the South Korean plane and Israeli defense companies
are pushing for the T-50. One official estimated that sales to South Korea could
reach about $500 million a year.
Over the past year, Israeli defense
industries have increased their activities in Seoul and talks are ongoing about
the establishment of a number of joint ventures with Korean companies.
December, for example, the South Korean military issued an urgent operational
requirement to Rafael for guided anti-tank missile systems called Spike NLOS
after the North Korean artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island in
The South Korean military is also in talks with the Defense
Ministry about the Iron Dome, the short-range rocket defense system.