A ministerial panel headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak made a final decision Thursday to purchase 20 new F-35 fighter jets, despite opposition from a number of senior defense officials over the high cost of the deal.
Barak gave his go-ahead last month to purchase the jets in a deal valued at around $2.75 billion. The first planes are expected to arrive in 2015.
The Israel Air Force, however, will have to make do with considerably fewer planes than the 75 originally sought. The entire deal will be funded by American military.
"The F-35 is the fighter plane of the future that will allow Israel to maintain its aerial superiority and its technological advantage in the region," Barak said after approving the deal in August. "The F-35 will give the IAF better capabilities, both near and far, to help strengthen Israel's national security."
Negotiations dragged on for more than two years amid several disagreements; many revolved around the IAF's demands that Israeli-made systems be installed for specialties such as electronic warfare and communications. Israel also wanted to expand the plane's capacity to allow it to carry Israeli-made missiles.
The Americans declined, however, insisting that the deal was a "closed package" and none of the components could be altered.
In any case, the F-35 will give the IAF outstanding radar-dodging capabilities that allow preemptive strikes against enemy states with advanced air defense technologies.
In a bid to maintain Israel's technological gap ahead of Arab states, the F-35 deal was pushed through instead of upgrading the air force's F-15s and F-16s. This approach sticks to the principle that Israel is the first country in the Middle East to receive the newest fighter aircraft.
The IAF was sufficiently committed to this principle to override protests from the leaders of Israeli defense contractors, who claimed that the deal was damaging them.
The package also got by opposition from a number of members of the General Staff who criticized the high price of the deal, which does not allow for investment into weapons for the land forces and navy.
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