Fissures appear in the relationship between Israel and South Korea, after Tel Aviv considers scraping a USD$1 billion arms deal between the two countries and opting to honour a preliminary deal signed with Italy many months ago, reported Israeli daily, Haaretz. Israel’s current ageing training planes, U.S. made Skyhawks, are due to be replaced soon, with a decision necessary by early 2012. South Korea and Israel have been forging a trade deal, for the purchase 25-30 planes Korean planes, at a cost of approximately $1 billion.
Recently, however, South Korea learned of a trade deal being developed between Israel and Italy. The Italian deal includes the purchasing of the M-346 training jet, as opposed to the Korean made T-50’s.
The Italian deal was a preliminary agreement signed by the Director of the Defence Ministry, which included the purchasing of the training planes, and a host of further security deals estimated at a further $1 billion. The preliminary document only becomes binding pending Israel’s purchase of the M-346’s.
Seoul is reportedly outraged, with the Koreans accusing them of “Violating Israel’s own tender laws by giving unjustified preference to the Italians.” They are reportedly seeking legal action and have requested clarifications from Israel regarding the preliminary deal. Suspicion is rife, and it has been suggested that this was merely a ploy by Israel to leverage the price South Korea is asking for.
Seoul has hinted that the reneging of the deal would result in the annulment of all previously signed Israeli-Korean arms procurements, worth an estimated $280 million per year to Israel.
The Israeli Air Force examined the two planes earlier in the year, conducing intensive testing and simulations, and have submitted a detailed report to the Defence Ministry. The final say rests with the Ministry, who must consider not only political ramifications, but also economic ones.
A senior Israeli Defence official stated that “Israel’s interests are not confined to the competition on the training plane, but rather to achieving a comprehensive deal that includes a range of fields,” and that, “Nothing has been finalized.”
Israel has traditionally had strong ties to Italy and its Premier, Silvio Berlusconi, and may wish to reinforce these alliances in the wake of the Arab Spring, which has isolated Israel even more within the international community.