Watchdog to Look at Decision to Purchase F-35 for $2.75 Billion

State Comptorller to probe controversial defense purchase that sparked opposition from IDF generals and the minister of finance.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss will examine the decision making process behind Israel's decision to procure the American-made F-35 combat aircraft.

Lindenstrauss has asked various sources in the defense establishment who were involved for documents and clarifications of questions. However, the government watchdog does not intend to undertake action that would delay the deal, which is expected to be signed on Thursday.

The deal calls for Israel to acquire 20 aircraft from the maker, Lockheed-Martin, at an overall cost of $2.75 billion. The deal will be funded by U.S. defense aid and the first aircraft are expected to be delivered to Israel in five years. The first operational squadron of 20 aircraft is expected to be ready by 2017.

The deal was approved by a special ministerial committee in mid-September. The discussion was preceded by lengthy deliberation in the air force, among the IDF top brass and at the Defense Ministry. In late August, Defense Minister Ehud Barak authorized the deal.

Even though the deal was backed by Barak, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Israel Air Force commander Maj. Gen. Ido Nechushtan, the decision was controversial and stirred a great deal of opposition, both among the General Staff and experts outside the defense establishment. A leading government figure opposing the deal is Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz.

The opponents complained mostly about the price tag for the fighter planes and argued the purchase would tie up U.S. defense aid to Israel for too long, at the expense of the ground forces. Several generals proposed delaying the procurement by two years and using the resources at this time to equip the ground forces. There were also complaints the air force playing an excessively dominant role in the decision making process, so the views of its top brass dictated the decision of the defense establishment and the government in favor of the deal.

Lindenstrauss decided not to interfere in the actual process of the deal and did not attempt to delay the signing of the agreement. However, the sort of examination his office has undertaken is expected to require the IDF and the defense minister work hard to proved extensive answers to the investigation team.

The state comptroller and his aides will focus on the decision making to ensure the procedure was followed carefully, and that the necessary considerations were taken into account. His conclusions are expected to affect the next multiyear program of the IDF, which will be readied during 2012, as well as procurement allocation throughout the military.