Israel Air Force Recommends Buying Training Jets From Italy

Decision may damage relations with South Korea, which is also vying to sell the IAF its T-50 jets and has accused Israel of favoring the Italian M-346.

Israel Air Force has recommended buying Italian-made training jets to replace its ageing fleet. The Defense Ministry and the Israel Defense Forces are expected to make their choice between the Korean T-50 Golden Eagle trainer jet and Italy's M-346 Master within a few weeks. The deal is valued at about a billion dollars.

The new aircraft is to replace the IAF's ageing fleet of U.S.-made A-4 Skyhawks as the first planes flown by combat pilots in training.

South Korean training jets.AP

Relations between Seoul and Jerusalem have been tense for several months, with Korea accusing Israel of favoring Italy in the negotiations. In recent years, the South Koreans have purchased an average of $280 million a year in such defense products.

In December, the head of the South Korean Defense Procurement Agency and the president of the the state-run aircraft maker, Korea Aerospace Industries, came to Israel, where they met with senior Defense Ministry figures. Israeli defense officials have rejected the Korean claims and said no decision has been made over which trainer jets will be bought.

IDF spokesman told Haaretz that "the IAF does not discuss its professional recommendations through the media."