US to Finalize Middle East Weapons Deal

A $10 billion arms deal is under discussion between the United States and its Arab and Israeli allies that will send a “very clear signal” to Iran, Chuck Hagel, the US defense secretary, has said.

Hagel, who is on his first visit to Israel as Pentagon chief, said on Sunday the US is committed to providing Israel’s military with an advantage.

“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.”

The first stop on Hagel’s week-long Middle East trip came two days after the Pentagon said it was finalizing a weapons deal to strengthen the militaries of Israel and two of Iran’s key rivals, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Al Jazeera’s correspondent Simon McGregor-Wood, reporting from Jerusalem, said Hagel’s visit was an opportunity to put controversies of the past behind, such as his earlier comments on Israel which affected his confirmation.

Clear Signal

The deal includes the sale of KC-135 aerial refueling tankers, anti-air defense missiles and tilt-rotor V-22 Osprey troop transport planes to Israel as well as the sale of 25 F-16 Fighting Falcon jets to the UAE.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia also would be allowed to purchase weapons with so-called “standoff” capabilities that enable them to engage the enemy with precision at a distance.

Asked if the arms deal sent a message that the military option was on the table if Tehran moved to build a nuclear weapon, Hagel said: “I don’t think there’s any question that that’s another very clear signal to Iran.”

Iran denies Western allegations that it is seeking to develop the capability to build nuclear weapons, saying its atomic activities are aimed at generating electricity.

Israel has repeatedly voiced its impatience with the pace of diplomatic efforts to curb Iran’s enrichment of uranium, saying they should be coupled with a credible military threat.

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”.

Asked about renewed debate in the Israeli media that Israel might have to strike Iran by itself, Hagel said “every sovereign nation has the right to defend itself and protect itself”.

“Iran presents a threat in its nuclear programme and Israel will make the decisions that Israel must make to protect itself and defend itself,” he said.

But Hagel added the US and other countries believe there is still time for diplomacy and tough international sanctions to have an impact.

After Israel, Hagel will visit Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Guerrilla Blog Dispatches – April 26, 2013

Dust

Defense Contractors Are Already Looking to Cash In on Boston

US Military Faulted For Burn-Pit Use in Afghanistan

US Combat Drones to Stay in Afghanistan Beyond 2014

Obama Officials Authorized New ‘Cybersecurity’ Warrantless Surveillance Program

Law Requiring Warrants for E-Mail Wins Senate Committee Approval

Photo: A U.S. Marine Corps CH-53 Super Stallion helicopter lands at Camp Al-Galail, Qatar, to drop off several Marines assigned to Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, for Exercise Eagle Resolve. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kenny Holston/Released)

Jeremy Scahill on the Killing Anwar al-Awlaki

When President Obama killed radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki by drone strike in September of 2011, he set a dangerous precedent: The president of the United States was now serving as judge, jury and executioner for American citizens. Read the full story by Jeremy Scahill, Inside America’s Dirty Wars.

This Week in War

Syria Snipersthepoliticalnotebook:

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Photo: Syrian snipers by Musa..

In Key Senate Job, Ex-Lockheed Exec Replaced by Ex-Lockheed Lobbyist

Lockheedby Justin Elliott ProPublica, April 24, 2013, 12:07 p.m.

Last year, we told you about how former Lockheed Martin executive Ann Sauer had been hired to be the top Republican staffer on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Sauer got $1.6 million from Lockheed, including a buyout, before being hired by Sen. John McCain to come back to Capitol Hill, where she had previously worked as a staffer. Watchdogs cried foul.

With McCain stepping down as ranking member of the committee, Sauer left the job on the Armed Services Committee earlier this year and now works as a federal budget expert for hire.

Her replacement? Another former Hill staffer who went to work with large military contractors 2014 including Lockheed.

John Bonsell, the new staff director for the Republicans on the committee, spent five years as a lobbyist for military contractors such as Boeing, GE Aviation, BAE Systems, and SAIC. He made $276,400 in 2011, his final year as a lobbyist, a disclosure form shows. Bonsell did not respond to our requests for comment.

Bonsell takes the Armed Services Committee job at an especially fraught time for military contractors: the industry has been fighting 2014 so far unsuccessfully 2014 budget cuts that kicked in under sequestration last month.

Before working as a lobbyist, Bonsell had a two-decade career in the Army including a stint as chief of concepts and doctrine on the Army staff at the Pentagon. After that, he became a legislative assistant to Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., in 2001.

In 2007, he joined Robison International, a lobby shop focusing on military issues that is led by a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs named Randall West.

After five years as a lobbyist, Bonsell rejoined Inhofe’s staff in 2012 as legislative director. Earlier this year, when Inhofe took over from McCain as ranking member on the Armed Services Committee, he hired Bonsell to be staff director.

Asked if Bonsell’s previous role as a lobbyist for industry players presents any conflict, Inhofe spokeswoman Donelle Harder said the senator views that work as a plus.

“Due to his 20 plus years of service in the U.S. Army and his post-retirement career, Sen. Inhofe finds John Bonsell uniquely qualified to understand the perspective of both the government and the private sector as the committee works to address unprecedented challenges with the future of our national defense,” she wrote in an email.

Inhofe has said that his top priority is to avoid military budget cuts.