Several ministers, headed by Strategic and Intelligence Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, strongly objected to purchasing more F-35 fighter jets at the ministerial committee for defense purchases’ meeting Wednesday.
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The Defense Ministry and Israel Air Force submitted to the committee a proposal to buy a second squadron of the advanced fighter jets at the expected cost of some $4.5 billion.
Steinitz spearheaded the objection to buying 31 jets, which will be added to the 19 ordered in the first deal. Steinitz is in favor of buying numerous cheap missiles to be launched from the sea, surface and air, and for increasing the use of drones, thus reducing Israel’s dependence on manned aircraft.
The committee consists of 10 members headed by the prime minister, with Steinitz as his deputy. Steinitz is supported, as far as is known, by Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir, a retired IAF colonel and former chairman of Israel Aerospace Industries. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and IAF commander Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel supported the purchase proposal in the committee.
The IAF is interested in buying a third F-35 squadron as well. Altogether the air force hopes to have 75 F-35 jets in three squadrons in the coming decade.
The deal’s opponents, who also cite the opinions of external experts such as former Defense Minister Moshe Arens, argue that in an era when myriads of rockets and missiles threaten IAF bases, Israel must not be wholly dependent on fighter jets.
The ministers said they were told in various defense industry plants that satisfactory agreements have not been reached regarding the defense industry’s part in buying systems to be installed in the F-35 jets.
Steinitz said there is no certainty that the planes will have a low-enough radar signature to avoid enemy radar detection, in view of recent technological developments.
The National Security Council analyzed the alternatives to the F-35 but did not make an unequivocal recommendation.
Ya’alon discussed the deal for the second squadron with U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in Washington at the end last month. But Steinitz argued that the defense system is not qualified to present more than a statement of intentions, because the new squadron’s purchase hadn’t been approved by the committee yet.
Steinitz also protested the defense system’s plan to waive Hagel’s offer to provide Israel with six V-22 military tiltrotor aircraft for in-depth special forces missions and for extracting people from distances, in order to allocate funds from the American assistance for financing the F-35.