In the first move of its kind, the US will sell state-of-the-art aerial re-fuelling planes to Israel, paid for using the military aid Tel Aviv receives from America.
Israel plans to purchase eight Boeing KC-46 Pegasus aircrafts from the US to replace the Israeli Air Force’s current fleet – which includes the aging KC-130 Hercules and converted Boeing 707s – the Times of Israel reported yesterday, citing a broadcast by Israel’s Channel 12 News.
The US Airforce only received the Boeing KC-46 Pegasus aircraft earlier this year, meaning their sale to Israel will mark the first time the US has agreed to sell the technology to a third party.
Israel is expected to begin receiving the planes in the next two years, with a US Air Force lieutenant colonel explaining to Channel 12 that “just like for the US Air Force, for the Israeli Air Force [the KC-46] gives it the ability to reach out and do whatever they need to do at any time, be it humanitarian or combat operations”.
The cost of the eight aircraft is thought to exceed $1 billion, which Israel will pay for using a portion of the $3.8 billion in US military aid it receives annually.
In October, the largest-ever US military aid package to Israel – worth $38 billion over a period of ten years – entered into force. Then-State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert announced that, in light of the new fiscal year, the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by the US and Israel in 2016 would enter into effect.
Under the terms of the MOU, the US set funding for Israel at $3.3 billion in Foreign Military Financing, with a further $500 million for “cooperative programmes for missile defence” every year for the next decade.
Although the US had previously granted similar annual levels of military funding to Israel, the new MOU stipulated that all funds must be spent on US military equipment. This was greeted with frustration by Israel, which wanted to spend some of the money domestically to develop its own military technology.
Under US President Donald Trump this high level of spending has been fiercely protected, despite budget cuts to other sectors; the 2020 budget proposal sent by the White House to Congress in March of this year included the full $3.3 billion aid in the 2016 MOU.
The proposal cited the need to “bolster Israel’s capacity to defend itself against threats in the region and maintain its qualitative military edge” as justification for protecting spending levels, even as the US’ Environmental Protection Agency, USAID, housing and health sectors all faced severe cuts to their budget.
Israel has also sold military equipment to the US. In January the US bought two Iron Dome anti-missile defence systems from Israel, with the Trump administration asking Congress for $373 million to buy the equipment. Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth explained that the US “plan[s] to deploy the [Iron Dome] batteries abroad to defend their soldiers in sensitive areas around the world,” with the deal likely to be concluded as early as 2020.