Israel to buy dozens of Italian jets

Israel reached a $1 billion preliminary agreement with Italy to buy 30 military training jets to replace the current ones, which are over 40 years old, while Italy will buy Israeli defense equipment worth $1 billion, media reports said.

The deal, which still needs governmental approval, will replace the old American Skyhawks for the newer Italian M-346, after both Italy and South Korea had been in a lengthy competition for the sale, reported Xinhua.

South Korea had hoped to sell its T-50 jets to Israel for $1.6 billion, in an offer that included buying the Iron Dome anti-missile system, but Israel's ministry of defense finally chose Italy's offer due to "harsh budgetary reality", Ynet News site reported.

However, South Korea complained about lack of transparency in the deal.

The ministry rebuked South Korea's complaints, since "after close analysis of both the proposals, and at the conclusion of a long and comprehensive review process, it was decided that the Italian proposal was the most efficient choice for Israel's Ministry of Defense", the ministry's director general, Udi Shan said.

News of the deal come during harsh budget cuts in the military, after the publication of the Trajtenberg report's recommendations on social welfare reform, which came after large-scale social protests in the summer of 2011.

This week, army officials explained that a $3.7 billion gap between the 2012 defense budget and the annual army funding plan, will also cause other significant security cuts.
"These are hard steps which will immediately affect our war readiness," a senior army official told the Haaretz newspaper.

"The government is aware of the severity of the situation, but has yet to respond to our demands for reducing the budge gaps," he said.

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