Two F-35 stealth fighter jets arrived in Israel on Monday, the first of 52 that it has agreed to purchase in the coming years.
The planes arrived at the Nevatim Air Force Base in the Negev Desert after a stopover in Italy and a six-hour rain delay. Among the dignitaries on hand to celebrate the arrival of the American-made jets were Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, and U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter.
Netanyahu thanked Carter and the United States for allowing Israel to purchase the planes. “It’s a sign of your personal friendship, your personal commitment to the U.S.-Israel alliance, and…I wish to thank as well, on behalf of all the people of Israel, President Obama, the American Congress, and the American people,” Netanyahu said at the ceremony, adding later: “Israel is your best and your most reliable ally in the Middle East—in my opinion beyond the Middle East—we will always remain so.”
“I want to say clearly — anybody who thinks of attacking us will be attacked,” Netanyahu proclaimed. “Only strength brings deterrence, only strength brings peace.”
Rivlin’s remarks echoed that theme. “The aircraft will change the rules of the game,” he said. “It will change the scope of our activities. Our enemies already know that it doesn’t pay to attack Israel.”
Carter noted the progress that the Israeli military has made, noting that the Israeli Air Force “began by flying leftover World War II planes and is now flying the most advanced aircraft in history.”
He also mentioned that Israel, “America’s closest friend and ally in the region,” is the only Middle Eastern country to have received the advanced fighter. It is also the only nation in the world that has been approved by the Pentagon to alter the planes’ software systems.
The Hebrew name for the F-35 will be “Adir,” meaning “mighty.” Carter said that the name was appropriate for “aircraft that represent the full force of military might.”
— U.S. Dept of Defense (@DeptofDefense) December 12, 2016
A senior air force official told the Times of Israel last month that the F-35 will become a central element of Israel’s air strategy. It is believed that the jets could contend with Russia’s advanced S-300 anti-aircraft batteries, which have been deployed in Iran and Syria.
The first F-35 designated for Israel was unveiled in June at a ceremony at a Lockheed Martin plant in Texas. Israel has a role in the manufacture of the latest F-35 iteration: Israel Aerospace Industries signed a multi-billion dollar contract in 2014 to manufacture its wings.
[Photo: The Israel Project ]