The Pentagon plans to sell six tilt-rotor Osprey aircraft to Israel in a long-planned deal worth $1.13 billion, officials said Tuesday, according to AFP.
Israel will become the first foreign country to be allowed to purchase the V-22 Osprey, which can take off like a helicopter and fly like a turboprop airplane.
U.S. officials had announced plans to sell the Osprey to Israel last year but the Pentagon unveiled details of the arms package Tuesday in a formal notification to Congress, which has 15 days to raise any objections to the sale.
Last year’s announcement was seen as expressing the viability of military action in Iran and Syria, and was criticized by Iran as potentially leading to "regional instability." Iran's nuclear program has been a major threat to stability, with many fearing a regional nuclear arms race.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel gave orders two months ago to expedite the sale of the six aircraft to Israel.
Apart from the V-22s, reported AFP, the package includes radar, missile warning systems, radios, night vision goggles, navigation systems and other equipment for the Ospreys, according to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency.
"The proposed sale of V-22B aircraft will enhance and increase the Israel Defense Forces' search and rescue and special operations capabilities," the agency said in a statement.
"The V-22B provides the capability to move personnel and equipment to areas not accessible by fixed wing lift assets."
The U.S. Marine Corps has pioneered the use of the Osprey and commanders have touted the aircraft as able to move troops faster and over longer distances than a helicopter.
The Osprey was plagued by accidents and technical problems in its early years but has been heavily used by the Marines in Afghanistan. The Air Force also uses the Osprey for its special operations forces.
The United States has committed itself to maintaining Israel's "qualitative military edge" and provides about $3 billion in grants every year, representing about 20 percent of Israel's defense budget.
The planned arms sale coincides with strains in U.S.-Israeli relations over Washington's support for an interim agreement on Iran's nuclear program and diplomatic efforts for Middle East peace.
The Yediot Aharonot newspaper quoted Yaalon, in closed conversations, as dismissing the U.S. peace plan and calling Kerry “messianic” and “obsessive.”
Yaalon reportedly said in these conversations, which took place ahead of Kerry's latest visit, that “the American security plan that was presented to us is not worth the paper it was written on. It contains neither security nor peace. Only our continued presence in Judea and Samaria and the Jordan River will guarantee that Ben Gurion Airport and (the northern city of) Netanya do not become targets for missiles from every direction.
“Secretary of State John Kerry – who came here very determined, and operates based upon an unfathomable obsession and a messianic feeling – cannot teach me anything about the Palestinians,” he was quoted as saying.
“The only thing that can 'save' us is that John Kerry will get a Nobel peace prize and leave us alone,” Yaalon reportedly said.
The Defense Minister later apologized for his remarks, saying he had no intention of offending Kerry.