U.S. Official: Israel Gives Jordan Helicopters for Protection Against ISIS

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A Cobra helicopter. Credit: Oren Rozen / Wikicommons

Israel has given retired U.S.-supplied Cobra combat helicopters to Jordan to help the Hashemite kingdom fend off insurgent threats on the Syrian and Iraqi borders, a U.S. official with knowledge of the deal has told Reuters.

The handover, initiated last year, was approved by Washington, which provided mechanical overhauls for the aircraft before they were incorporated free of charge in Jordan's existing Cobra fleet, the official said.

"These choppers are for border security," the official, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, told Reuters.

Asked how many Cobras were transferred, the official said: "Around 16, though some may have been used by the Jordanians for spare parts" rather than kept intact.

Jordanian and Israeli officials declined comment, as did the Pentagon.

Israel and Jordan, as well as Saudi Arabia and Iraq, this week hosted U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, who offered reassurances about the regional fight against Islamic State and the July 14 international deal curbing Iran's nuclear program.

Israel originally had two Cobra squadrons - each consisting of around 30 of the aircraft, which are designed to back ground troops with aerial surveillance as well as machine gun and rocket fire, and to be nimble enough to elude surface-to-air missiles.

One of the squadrons was disbanded in the mid-2000s and the other in 2013, with Israel's air force preferring the more powerful, U.S.-supplied Apache helicopters also in its fleet and an expanded role for its thrifty and versatile pilotless drones.

The Jordanian air force has 25 Cobras in service, according to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. The Cobra's manufacturer is Bell Helicopter, a Textron company.

Last summer the United States blocked an Israeli deal to sell decommissioned Cobra helicopters to Nigeria. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the United States had “ongoing concerns about the Nigerian military’s protection of civilians when conducting military operations,” and operations against Boko Haram militants. It was apparently after this that Israel handed over the helicopters at no charge to Jordan.

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