An arms deal worth billions of dollars between the Defense Ministry and the United States for new fighter jets, tankers and helicopters received preliminary approval on Sunday by the security cabinet.
This decision ends a three-year-long dispute between the Defense Ministry and the Finance Ministry over the payment method of the deal.
The security cabinet chose the outline proposed by the Defense Ministry over the one suggested by the Finance Ministry. The defense minister asked to receive a foreign loan for the procurement.
In October, Finance Ministry legal adviser Avi Mesing – who opposed this outline – wrote to Deputy Attorney-General Meir Levin, citing legal issues with the advancement of the deal.
According to a Walla News report, Mesing blamed the Defense Ministry for trying to establish a “parallel mechanism” that would have allowed it to receive a loan and bypass the spending limit that was set for it by law.
The deal includes the procurement of four Boeing KC-46a aerial refueling tankers, that are intended to replace Israel’s ageing Re’em fleet, converted Boeing 707s.
Last March, the US State Department approved a possible sale of up to eight KC-46 aircraft and related equipment to Israel for an estimated cost of $2.4 billion, marking the first time that Washington has allowed Jerusalem to buy new tankers.
The deal also includes new heavy-lifters helicopters, in which the IAF will have to choose between Boeing’s Chinook and Lockheed-Martin’s Sikorsky CH-53K model. According to sources, the deal also includes exercising the option of another F-35 squadron and on top of it, F-15ex, the newest fighter jet of the US Air Force.
Security sources said the IAF is leaning toward preferring the CH53K over the Chinook.
However, Defense Minister Benny Gantz asked to include the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey in the deal. This aircraft has the ability of vertical takeoff and the speed of a plane. It may be used to transfer elite units and to protect Israel’s gas platforms. The addition of this costly aircraft might force a reduction in the number of heavy-lift helicopters that will be procured.
Despite the disagreements, a senior IDF source told The Jerusalem Post that both the military and the Defense Ministry will reach an agreed-upon solution before the next step.
However, the final details of the deal are not clear and haven’t become public yet.
The Defense Ministry declined to disclose details about approval of the outline.
After the approval, the IAF is set to make its recommendations regarding its needs and preferences. Then, it is set to be reviewed by the Defense Ministry and its director-general, and should be submitted for final approval by the procurement ministerial committee.
The aircraft deal is just a part of an overall procurement plan for the IDF and Israel’s security establishment.
The approved outline is in accordance with the IDF’s multi-year procurement plan and its dollar-funded aspect.
The plan included the purchase of elements for multiple IDF branches.
For example, in the Ground Forces, it includes the purchase of the Eitan armored fighting vehicle and various types of new ammunition.
In the intelligence and communication aspects, it includes the purchase of new software, hardware and advanced computers that are meant to keep the IDF’s cyber superiority and will complete its digital transformation.