U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel arrived in Israel on Sunday for talks with Israeli officials on issues including Iran's nuclear program and the Syrian crisis.
Israel is the first stop of Hagel's week-long trip to the Middle East, which will also take him to Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Hagel had been doubted for his views on Israel and Iran, but has since worked to convince his doubters that he is a strong supporter of Israel and opposes a nuclear armed Iran. To back his words up, he is expected to announce a major arms deal with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, according to the New York Times.
The total value of the deal is reported to be 10 billion U.S. dollars for all three countries. The deal will include a number of advanced weapons systems aimed both at countering the threat from Iran and giving Israel the ability to deal with challenges closer to its borders, the newspaper reported.
Professor Uzi Rabi, of Tel Aviv University, told Xinhua Sunday that Hagel's visit serves the double-purpose: to show Americans' support for Israel, and to send a message to Iran that it needs to understand that unless serious progress is made in the so-called P5+1 negotiations, there is a credible military option.
"The second half of 2013 is a real critical period in terms of this Israel-Iran-U.S. (triangle)," Rabi said.
"I guess that the P5+1 will provide Iran with another trial for two or three months, but come September and October if there is no news we are back to square one and the United States will have to decide how to proceed from there," he said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called a nuclear armed Iran an "existential threat" to Israel, and during a speech at the UN General Assembly in September 2012, he urged the international community, especially Washington, to establish clear limits or "red lines" for how much uranium Iran should be allowed to enrich. Enriched uranium is a key component when producing a nuclear weapon.
Netanyahu and other Israeli officials have in the past said Israel cannot allow Iran to cross the nuclear threshold, often stating that all options are on the table.
However, after the United States and the European Union decided to impose additional economic sanctions on Iran, Israel's notion of an attack has been largely absent for the public discourse. The silence has been interpreted as that Netanyahu has resigned to the fact that Israel singlehandedly cannot destroy Iran's nuclear infrastructure and that it is better for Israel to stand back and let the United States take the lead.
However, the possibility of an Israeli attack has in the past been used by Washington as a reason to impose tougher sanctions on Iran, and Rabi added that Hagel's visit could also be seen as a way "to send a message to Iran that the United States is still actually blocking Israel from doing an attack."
ARMS SUPPORT TO ISRAEL
Reuven Ben Shalom, a former Lieutenant-Colonel in the Israeli Defense Forces and the founder of Cross Cultural Strategies, said as far as the arms deal is not something that was invented yesterday, it is part of an ongoing process.
"Israel's capabilities have always been unique in the region, have always been one step ahead and this arms deal in a way should be seen in a historic context. Of the U.S. and Israel's cooperation and the weapons that Israel acquired have always made Israel the strongest in the region and to allow Israel to defend itself," Ben Shalom said.
Israel does have the capability to launch an attack on Iran, but the capability is not of the same level as the United States, Ben Shalom said, adding that "the United States is a global power with global reach with much stronger capabilities than Israel."
Israel could become the first foreign country to buy the V-22 Osprey troop transport aircraft, in addition to new refueling tanker planes and radar systems that could be fitted on existing fighter aircraft, according to the New York Times report.
"This specific arms deal doesn't add a specific capability that allows an attack on Iran, it's just another incremental step in always making sure Israel one step ahead (of other U.S. regional allies)," Ben Shalom said.
SYRIAN CRISIS AS ANOTHER FOCUS
The second topic for Hagel's visit is the deteriorating situation in Syria.
Rabi said the dissuasions during Hagel's visit will be a continuation of those held during the regional visit by President Barack Obama last month.
"The United States and its allies would like to be prepared for the day after," and since the Syrian administration could collapse "we are going to have a real geo-political shift here, so it goes without saying the more prepared you are the better," he added.
While there have been a number of skirmishes between Syrian rebels and the Israeli army along the border, the main fear for Israel and the United States is that Damascus will one day lose control over its chemical weapons.
The West has been accusing the Syrian government troops of using chemical weapons in its confrontation with the rebels. But Damascus insisted that even it has such weapons, it will not use them, and blamed the opposition forces for causing deaths with chemical weapons last month in a town in northern Syria's Aleppo province.