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THursday, August 21, 2008

U.S. denies Israel's request for tanker aircraft

JERUSALEM — The United States has rejected an Israeli request for advanced refueling aircraft that could be used for any mission to strike Iran nuclear sites.

Israeli officials said the Bush administration refused a request by Defense Minister Ehud Barak to purchase the KC-767 tanker transport aircraft. They said the administration did not want to be seen as helping Israel attack Iran's nuclear facilities.

"There is a virtual halt on the sale of all U.S. systems that could enhance Israel's offensive capability," an official said.

In August, Barak visited the United States and met Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other leading administration officials in talks that focused on Iran. During his visit, officials said, Barak raised the prospect of a U.S. sale of the twin engine KC-767 to replace Israel's aging air refueling fleet.

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The KC-767, produced by Boeing, has been described as an air refueling as well as strategic transport aircraft. The aircraft, based on the Boeing 767-200 and with a capacity to transport more than 202,000 pounds of fuel, has been locked in battle with Northrop Grumman and Airbus over a huge U.S. Air Force procurement project.

This marked the second U.S. refusal of an Israeli request for military systems in about a month. In July, the administration rejected an Israeli request for advanced bunker-busters and underground detection systems. The White House was also said to have denied Israel permission to use Iraq's air space for an attack on Iran.

Officials said the request for the KC-767 -- first reported by Israel's Channel 10 television -- was not connected to Iran. They said Israel's fleet of Boeing 707 and KC-130 air refueling aircraft was more than 30 years old.

In August, the administration approved an Israeli request for the deployment of the X-band early-warning radar to detect ballistic missile launches. But officials said Israel, in the first such arrangement, would be denied access to the X-band, which is scheduled to be operated by the U.S. European Command at a remote location in the Negev desert.

On July 30, the Defense Department notified Congress of an Israeli request for nine C-130J-30 air transports from Lockheed Martin in an estimated $1.9 billion deal. Congress was expected to approve the sale of the tactical air transport.

Israel plans to house its air transport fleet at a base in the Negev desert. For nearly 50 years, the fleet was kept at Ben-Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv.



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