Knesset c'tee approves purchase of F-35 fighter planes

Arms deal to be one of the largest in Israel's history, after defense ministry requested that approval process be expedited.

F35 (photo credit: DR)
(photo credit: DR)
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 September.
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 military manufacturers.
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 Lockheed-Martin.
“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.
Defense 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, along with the funds necessary to purchase flight simulators, build new hangars and train new ground crews. Although Israel will continue to pay for the deal until 2018, the IAF is expected to begin to receive the new aircraft starting in 2015.
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 committee had not received any written documentation concerning the deal, and that the defense funds committed to the F-35 could come at the expense of acquiring other necessary equipment.
Following the morning meeting, the closed-door Committee for the Defense Budget heard a more detailed description of the plane’s capabilities, and also held the final vote that paves the way for the deal.