After a long bidding war to replace Israel’s aging A-4 Skyhawks, the Israelis have gone with 30 Italian M-346 Master training jets over Korea’s T-50 Golden Eagle. The deal is valued at $1 billion –with the caveat that Italy will purchase about $1 billion worth of goods from Israel’s defense industries.

Korea had also agreed to make reciprocal purchases, but the Israeli ministry said they were much less generous than the Italian offer. And the Italian plane is reportedly cheaper to maintain.

According to Haaretz, the Golden Eagle sales team thought the bidding process was unfair from the get-go.

…they repeatedly charged that the tender was rigged, and that Israel preferred the M-346 mainly due to the close ties between Jerusalem and Italy’s Berlusconi government – though Berlusconi and his cabinet were ousted in November. They reiterated these charges during meetings last week with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and his ministry’s director general, Udi Shani, at an air show in Singapore.

There is always a lot of greasing that goes on in these deals from all bidders, but I don’t know if getting up in the defense minister’s face was a good idea.

The Defense Ministry insists that the choice was based mainly on the relative capabilities of the planes, including reports by Israeli pilots on dozens of test flights of both models.

A tough loss for the Golden Eagle as it tries to land some big contracts. Look for high level Israel officials making visits to Seoul in the near future to smooth ruffled feathers.