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South Korean training jets. Photo by AP
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Defense Ministry Director General Udi Shani will fly to South Korea tomorrow to conduct more talks about the purchase of trainer jets for the Israel Air Force. South Korea and Italy are both vying to land the contract, worth an estimated $1 billion.

Relations between Seoul and Jerusalem have been tense for several months, with Korea accusing Israel of favoring Italy in the negotiations.

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

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. Shani has told Seoul officials that Israel wants to expand bilateral defense trade. The main purpose of his visit is presumably to explore the possibility of selling Israel defense systems to South Korea.