The Knesset, during two special hearings Monday, removed the final hurdle to the
acquisition of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which seems almost certain to be
one of the largest arms deals in Israel’s history.
Pushing up against the
deadline for deciding whether or not to acquire 20 planes at a cost of $2.75
billion, the Knesset Finance Committee and the Committee for the Defense Budget
approved the deal, which had previously been greeted with raised eyebrows by
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz.
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The Defense Ministry requested that the
hearing be held during the Knesset recess to speed up the completion of the deal
after Israel got an extension of the deadline to decide until the end of
Defense Ministry Director- General Udi Shani told MKs during
the hearing that the airplane, which is known for its versatility and stealth
capability, answers Israel’s complex security needs. He added that replacing the
IAF’s aging F-15s and F-16s would have carried nearly as heavy a price tag as
the F-35 deal.
Shani also referred to the debate surrounding the
outfitting of the plane, which has been a source of contention among Israeli
Although Elbit Systems is expected to
manufacture the helmets to be worn by F-35 pilots, other companies – and
government officials – have complained that the deal closes the door to Israeli
companies because of restraints placed upon the deal by F-35 manufacturer
“We took into consideration to what extent the airplane
will be Israeli, independent and non-dependent, but we were forced to take the
agreement that the first planes would be as they left the American factories
without any Israeli additions,” said Shani, adding that Israel had opted out of
involvement in the development of the F-35 almost a decade ago.
Ministry officials also told MKs that the acquisition of the plane will not have
any effect on other aspects of the national budget, since the majority of the
funding will come from US defense aid. An estimated NIS 150 million of the
necessary funds will come from the defense budget.
The high price for the
deal is based upon an approximate cost of $96 million per airplane,
the funds necessary to purchase flight simulators, build new hangars and
new ground crews. Although Israel will continue to pay for the deal
the IAF is expected to begin to receive the new aircraft starting in
Israel is maintaining the option of acquiring an additional 75 F-
35s in the future.
No committee members opposed the deal, although MK Uri
Ariel (National Union) abstained from the vote, complaining that the
had not received any written documentation concerning the deal, and that
defense funds committed to the F-35 could come at the expense of
Following the morning meeting, the closed-door
Committee for the Defense Budget heard a more detailed description of
plane’s capabilities, and also held the final vote that paves the way