U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says a major U.S. arms deal with Israel sends a "very clear signal" to Iran that military action could be used to stop Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
Hagel made the comment to reporters on Sunday, as he flew to Israel to finalize the sale of advanced U.S. weapons including missiles designed to destroy enemy air defenses, aerial refueling tankers and troop transport planes.
Israel could use those weapons to attack the Iranian nuclear program, which the Jewish state says is aimed at making weapons that threaten its existence. Iran insists that its nuclear program is peaceful.
When a reporter asked Hagel if the U.S.-Israeli arms deal indicates that either of the two allies could use a military option against the Iranian program, he said "I don't think there is any question that is another very clear signal to Iran."
Hagel said there is no "daylight" (disagreement) between the United States and Israel about their goal of preventing Iran from being nuclear-armed. But, he acknowledged that there may be "some differences" about the timing of any action "when and if" Iran decides to build a nuclear bomb.
Hagel reiterated the U.S. position that Israel has a right to defend and protect itself against threats. He also said there is still time for diplomacy and international sanctions to resolve the Iranian nuclear dispute peacefully.
Hagel began his first trip to Israel since becoming U.S. defense secretary this year with a Sunday ceremony at Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. He described the Holocaust as a painful reality and said the world must prepare "future generations for a clear understanding" that they must "never allow it to happen again."
Hagel is due to meet Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalaon and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the coming days before traveling to four other U.S. regional allies: Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
During those visits, Hagel is expected to finalize two more U.S. arms sales, including advanced missiles for Saudi Arabia and F-16 fighter jets for the UAE. The total value of the U.S. weapons deals with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE is about $10 billion.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.