Jerusalem: Israel has reached a USD 1 billion preliminary deal to buy 30 Italian military training jets, Israeli defence officials said on Thursday, providing a long-awaited upgrade to what is widely viewed as the most advanced Air Force in the Middle East.
The agreement, which still needs formal government approval, marked the end of a long competition between Italy and South Korea over the lucrative sale.
Israel announced it would buy the M-346, made by the Italian company Alenia Aermacchi and designed for low-cost flights. The aircraft will replace American Skyhawks, which the Israeli Air Force has trained with for 40 years.
As early as 2008, the Israeli Air Force announced it needed to replace the antiquated jets.
Italy will reciprocate the Israeli purchase by buying USD 1 billion in Israeli defence equipment, Israel`s Defence Ministry said.
The ministry`s director general, Udi Shani, said the offset deal enabled Israel to make the large purchase in a "harsh budgetary reality”.
South Korea hoped to sell its T-50 aircraft to Israel and had issued a USD 1.6 billion counteroffer including buying the expensive Iron Dome anti-rocket system, defence officials said. As Israel considered its options, South Korea complained about a lack of transparency in the deal.