Hagel says Iran must be stopped from building nuclear bomb
Israel and US differ on how long before Tehran has necessary technology
US secretary of defence Chuck Hagel waves before boarding an aircraft for a trip to the Middle East at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. Photograph: Jim Watson/Getty Image
US defence secretary Chuck Hagel said today Israel and the US agree Iran must be stopped from attaining the ability to build a nuclear bomb while differing on how long it will take Tehran to reach that point.
The US plans to sell Israel advanced weaponry, including transport aircraft, missiles and refueling planes, are a "very clear signal" about the possibility of an Israeli military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, Mr Hagel told reporters on the plane taking him to Israel, the initial leg of his first Mideast trip since taking office in February.
"Israel and the US see the threat of Iran in exactly the same" way, Mr Hagel said. "So I don't think there's any daylight there. When you break down into the specifics of the timing of when and if Iran decides to pursue a nuclear weapon, there may well be some differences but generally I believe our intelligence is generally very close to each other."
Mr Hagel repeatedly affirmed Israel's sovereign right to take military action to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear-weapons capability, a message that was also the centerpiece of US president Barack Obama's visit to the Jewish state last month.
Mr Hagel, who overcame a contentious confirmation process when several US lawmakers and outside critics questioned his views on the Jewish state, arrived in Israel today at the start of a week-long trip to the Middle East that includes stops in Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The focus of the trip is to reach agreements to sell $10 billion of US weaponry to Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, according to US officials who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity before the deal is announced.
Asked if the US plan to sell Israel advanced weaponry is a signal to Iran that a military strike is a possibility, Mr Hagel said, "I don't think there's any question that it's another very clear signal to Iran."
Israel, like the US, questions Iran's assertion that its nuclear programme is peaceful, designed for energy and medical uses. Israel has said Iran must be pressured to curb its nuclear program with a "credible military threat."
The US and Israel have both said a military option is on the table.