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Israelis to supply vehicles for Iraq

JERUSALEM --An Israeli state-owned corporation has won a contract to supply the U.S. Marine Corps with state-of the-art armored vehicles for use in Iraq, the latest in a long line of Israeli defense sales for use in the war.

Amit Tzimer, spokesman for weapons maker Rafael, said Sunday that, in partnership with U.S. manufacturer PVI, Rafael has signed up to deliver 60 of its new Golan vehicles at a total price of $37 million.

Delivery will be made to the Marines in the United States in May, he said.

Rafael's sales catalog describes the Golan as a multipurpose vehicle, capable of withstanding armor-piercing machine-gun rounds, rocket fire and bomb blasts. It can carry up to 10 troops up to 360 miles on a tank of gas and can be outfitted as a fighting vehicle, mobile command post or ambulance.

Tzimer said that the initial deal was part of the first phase of a U.S. program to procure a total of 40,000 armored vehicles, and Rafael hoped for more orders in the future.

He added said that the firm previously supplied armor for the Bradley fighting vehicle.

A Pentagon survey released earlier this year said that hundreds of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have experienced shortages of key protective equipment including armored vehicles.

Tel Aviv-based defense analyst Zeev Schiff said Rafael was only one of several Israeli companies that had long been providing and maintaining equipment for American forces in Iraq.

"Israel prefers to keep a low profile, but it's been doing that for years, not just for the (U.S.) Army but for the Navy, too," he said.

The Israeli Defense Ministry declined to comment on the sales of Israeli equipment destined for use in Iraq. The U.S. Defense Department did not respond to requests for a comment.

Robin Hughes, a Mideast military analyst at London-based Jane's Defense Information Group, said the issue of Israeli equipment in service in Iraq was a sensitive one, and both suppliers and customers generally preferred to avoid publicity.

"There are systems that are deployed, and I wouldn't just say U.S. vehicles, maybe other coalition vehicles. I think that if you were to look carefully, you might spot other Israeli stuff," he said, without elaborating.

Israeli media have reported that Israeli businessman are active within Iraq itself, and last month the Israeli National Security Council issued a cryptic travel warning, citing the danger to Israelis traveling there and reminding them that such visits are a criminal offense under Israeli law.

Israeli citizens are forbidden by law to visit Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia or Yemen, all of which are technically at war with the Jewish state. Egypt and Jordan are the only Arab states to have signed peace treaties with Israel.