Benefit of Stealth Fighter Jet Proves Elusive Subject in Israel

The F-35 has been dubbed the most expensive plane in the world and the Israel Air Force has 33 on order. Yet no one is asking the big question about whether it’s worth the huge expense.

Guy Rolnik
Guy Rolnik
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Israel F-35 rollout.
The first Israel F-35 to be rolled out at Fort Worth, Texas, June 2016. Credit: Beth Steel, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company
Guy Rolnik
Guy Rolnik

The Israeli public has become acutely aware of the cost of living and other socioeconomic issues in recent years. But in some areas, the government and economic interests still dictate the agenda and discourse. The best example is the hoopla around Israel’s purchase of F-35 Stealth fighter jets.

The first eight of the 33 fighter jets Israel ordered are expected to enter service with the Israel Air Force in the fall of 2017.

The Joint Strike Fighter F-35 is not only the most expensive plane in history. It’s also one of the weirdest and least successful projects ever by the U.S. military-industrial complex.

Its development cost more than $400 billion and went years over schedule. Worst of all, many doubt not only the need for it but its actual capabilities. A Pentagon report published six months ago casts doubt on its performance and the incentives its manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, was given to fix its flaws.

Meanwhile, the Israeli political system is preoccupied with U.S. military aid – a topic presented as being of the utmost political and economic importance. Supporters and detractors on both the left and right paint a simplistic picture of Israel generally looking for as much as possible, while the United States uses the aid as a bargaining chip to advance its interests in the Middle East.

Left out of the debate is the factor most central to aid over time: the U.S. military-industrial machine that develops and manufactures the weapons. For McDonnell Douglas, Boeing, Lockheed and the rest of the gang, since U.S. aid generally needs to be spent in the United States, it’s simply a way to get more billions from the American taxpayer.

These companies invest enormously in political donations, lobbying Congress and other arms of American government, and employing hordes of former generals and politicians as consultants. But remember, this is an industry that lives off taxpayer money and, mainly, from inflating potential and imaginary threats.

While U.S. and Israeli leaders wrangle over aid, the lobbyists and managers of the giant military industries are sitting back and giggling. They know exactly how the argument will end: Congress and the Senate will rubber stamp all the deals and the gravy train will roll on, with U.S. taxpayer money going full circle – from America to Israel and then back to America, into the coffers of the giant military companies.

They also know perfectly well that the concept of this weaponry being “free” because it’s “paid for by aid” is arrant nonsense. Planes, submarines and helicopters, etc., are a present that needs constant feeding, with fuel and maintenance, spare parts and manpower. The costs run into billions, and that is covered mainly by the Israeli taxpayer.

Does Israel really need F-35s? How much will it really cost the Israeli taxpayer? What are its real abilities? Does the IAF need the huge number of planes ordered, which is greater than the number of jets that all our enemies together, real and imaginary, could field? Doesn’t the advance in drone technology – pilotless aircraft – demand that vast investment by Israel in piloted planes be reduced?

Nobody seems to be looking at these questions. The Stealth may be expensive, superfluous and half-baked. But in one area it has proved itself beyond doubt: in its ability to evade serious public debate on its price and usefulness.