On the heels of a statement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday that Iran is getting ever closer to being able to build a nuclear bomb and the problem will have to be confronted in 2013, the Pentagon also on Monday notified Congress that it had approved the sale of nearly 7,000 precision bomb kits built by Boeing to Israel in a deal valued at around $647 million. The deal also included other munitions.
The Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which oversees foreign arms sales, said Israel had requested to buy 6,900 Joint Direct Attack Munition tail kits and thousands of other bombs.
U.S. lawmakers have 30 days to block the sale although such action is rare since arms sales are usually carefully vetted before they are formally notified.
Boeing builds the JDAM kits. Other contractors include Alliant Techsystems, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, and Raytheon.
The Pentagon said the deal would help Israel maintain the operational capability of the systems it already operates.
"The United States is committed to the security of Israel, and it is vital to U.S. national interests to assist Israel to develop and maintain a strong and ready self-defense capability," the agency said in its notification to Congress.
Although Israeli officials say they would like the U.S. to take the lead in a military assault on Iran’s nuclear sites, Israel, they say, would go it alone if necessary, describing a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat to the Jewish state.
Speaking to foreign journalists, Netanyahu said Israel was sticking to the red line he laid down in September, when he told the U.N. that Iran should not have enough enriched uranium to make even a single warhead.
“I made clear that once Iran crosses that enrichment threshold, the chances of us effectively stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program would be reduced dramatically,” he said. “Iran is two and a half months closer to crossing this line and there is no doubt that this will be a major challenge that will have to be addressed next year.”
Iran denies accusations by Israel, the U.S. and many Western governments that it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons, saying its ambitious nuclear program is for peaceful, civilian purposes.
Israeli experts have said Iran could have enriched enough uranium to produce just one bomb by the spring or summer of 2013. In an effort to deter Tehran, Western powers have imposed increasingly tough economic sanctions on the Islamic republic.
“The sanctions on Iran are hurting the Iranian economy. There is no question about that. But we have not seen any evidence that sanctions have stalled Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” Netanyahu said.
“Israel is more capable of addressing this challenge than it was when I took office four years ago,” said Netanyahu, who looks on course to win re-election in a January 22 national ballot.