updated 9/21/2004 10:17:00 PM ET 2004-09-22T02:17:00

The United States will sell Israel nearly 5,000 smart bombs in one of the largest weapons deals between the allies in years, Israeli military officials said Tuesday.

The deal will expand Israel’s existing supply of the weapons, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Israel’s announcement came after the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of a possible military sale to Israel worth as much as $319 million.

The agency said in a June 1 press release that the sale “will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a friendly country that has been and continues to be an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East.”

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on Tuesday that funding for the sale will come from U.S. military aid to Israel.

Disclosure of the deal comes amid escalating Israeli worries over Iran’s nuclear development program.

Israel and a number of Western countries fear that Iran is trying to produce nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is for generating electricity.

Defying a key demand set by 35 nations, Iran announced Tuesday that it has started converting raw uranium into the gas needed for enrichment, a process that can be used to make nuclear weapons.

The Israeli military officials would not say whether the bombs might be intended for use against Iran. But they ruled out the possibility that they could be used against Palestinian targets.

Israel drew heavy criticism after a one-ton smart bomb meant for a senior Palestinian militant also killed 15 civilians in an attack in the Gaza Strip in July 2002.

The bombs Israel is acquiring include airborne versions, guidance units, training bombs and detonators. They are guided by an existing Israeli satellite used by the military.

As part of the deal, Israel will receive 3,000 one-ton bombs, 1,000 half-ton bombs and 500 quarter-ton bombs, the military officials said.

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