Finance Minister balks at F-35 jet deal

Steinitz objects that Barak didn't consult other ministers.

JSF-35 311 (photo credit: courtesy)
JSF-35 311
(photo credit: courtesy)
Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s appointee to serve as the next chief-of-staff seemed on easy track for political approval Monday, but another recent Barak decision – to acquire 20 futuristic airplanes from the United States – has hit the shoals following Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz’s demand that the government reconsider the $ 2.7 billion deal.
Steinitz’s request, reported by Army Radio, is likely to be heeded by the government, in which case a discussion will be held. The proposal to acquire the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter was first announced last week.
The funds for the airplane, considered to be one of the two best fighters currently manufactured, would be drawn from US military aid funds for Israel, and not from Israeli tax dollars. But during the Sunday government meeting, Steinitz drew parallels between the airplane’s costs and the total package subsidized by the government to revitalize Israeli higher education.
The cost of the entire educational reform, Steinitz stressed, was less than the cost of the 20 airplanes.
Steinitz objected that such a financially significant decision was made where no government minister was consulted other than Barak. The plane, Steinitz protested, would include numerous hidden costs for Israel beyond the American aid, including the cost of training flight crews. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu listened to Steinitz’s criticism and reportedly told the finance minister the decision would be discussed, but in a smaller forum than the 39-member government.
The airplane’s American manufacturer, defense giant Lockheed- Martin, had reportedly blocked Israel from installing Israeli-made systems on the aircraft, which would be Israel’s first stealth-equipped fighter. In any event, Barak had reportedly planned to bring the deal for final approval to the security cabinet in the coming weeks.
According to the schedule presented for the airplane’s acquisition, delivery is expected to begin in 2015, over the course of approximately two years.