U.S. de­fense sec­re­tary in Is­rael as coun­try re­veals F-35 jets

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY ROBERT BURNS

NE­VA­TIM AIR FORCE BASE, IS­RAEL | The van­guard of Is­rael’s new fleet of F-35 fighter jets roared onto the Ne­va­tim air base Mon­day, ush­er­ing in a new era for Is­raeli air power and sharp­en­ing its mil­i­tary edge in a volatile Mid­dle East.

The ar­rival of Is­rael’s first two F-35 stealth air­craft also high­lighted the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s com­mit­ment to pro­vid­ing its ally with the lat­est U.S. mil­i­tary ad­vances.

With U.S. De­fense Sec­re­tary Ash­ton Carter and Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu in at­ten­dance, an elab­o­rate cer­e­mony at Ne­va­tim in south­ern Is­rael was de­layed sev­eral hours be­cause poor weather kept the F-35s from tak­ing off from Italy for the flight to Is­rael. By co­in­ci­dence, the cer­e­mony came on the same day Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump is­sued a caus­tic com­ment about cost over­runs as­so­ci­ated with the new jet, vow­ing to de­mand dra­matic cuts from con­trac­tor Lock­heed Martin when he takes of­fice next month.

In a tweet that sent Lock­heed’s stock value plum­met­ing Mon­day, Mr. Trump lashed out against the pro­gram: “The F-35 pro­gram and cost is out of con­trol. Bil­lions of dol­lars can and will be saved on mil­i­tary (and other) pur­chases af­ter Jan­uary 20th.”

In Is­rael, speak­ing shortly be­fore the planes landed, Mr. Ne­tanyahu thanked Mr. Carter and Pres­i­dent Obama.

“We value this com­mit­ment to the al­liance with Is­rael,” he said.

Mr. Ne­tanyahu is­sued a warn­ing to Is­rael’s en­e­mies. “I want to also say clearly, any­one who thinks to at­tack us will be at­tacked, any­one who thinks to de­stroy us is po­si­tion­ing them­selves to an ex­is­ten­tial threat. That is a vi­tal con­di­tion to en­sure our fu­ture. His­tory teaches us a sim­ple thing: Weak states don’t sur­vive,” Mr. Ne­tanyahu said in He­brew.

Mr. Carter said the U.S. “is more com­mit­ted to Is­raeli se­cu­rity than ever be­fore,” and the F-35s are ev­i­dence of that.

“From its stealth tech­nol­ogy to its fighter ca­pa­bil­i­ties, the F-35 will al­low pi­lots to evade de­tec­tion and fly at su­per­sonic speeds while con­duct­ing air de­fense; in­tel­li­gence, sur­veil­lance and re­con­nais­sance; or ground at­tack mis­sions,” Mr. Carter said.

The F-35 is con­sid­ered to be the world’s most so­phis­ti­cated new war­plane, equipped with stealth ca­pa­bil­i­ties that al­low it to evade or de­lay de­tec­tion by the top radar sys­tems. Is­raeli of­fi­cials be­lieve the plane will give them an ad­van­tage over their neigh­bors for years to come. They are com­mit­ted to buy­ing 50 of them.

Ear­lier, the deputy com­man­der of the Ne­va­tim Air Force base in south­ern Is­rael said the new fight­ers will give Is­rael an up­per hand over its neigh­bors for years to come.

“We are go­ing to be very strong for a long time, hav­ing these air­planes. And Is­rael has to be strong in this re­gion for its ex­is­tence,” said Col. Asaf, who could be iden­ti­fied only by his first name in line with mil­i­tary reg­u­la­tions. “It’s a mes­sage for ev­ery­body that Is­rael will keep on hold­ing the high-end tech­nol­ogy in this area.”

The pur­chase of the F-35 el­e­vates the en­tire Is­raeli air force to a higher level, the colonel said, ad­ding that four Is­raeli pi­lots have been trained to fly the planes and that more will be shown how to use them.

“This spe­cific air­plane is go­ing to be a very good one for the next decades,” he said.

In re­cent years Is­rael has re­port­edly car­ried out long-range airstrikes as far away as Su­dan, and is be­lieved to have struck Hezbol­lah-bound weapons ship­ments in neigh­bor­ing Syria.

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