Israel's announced approval for the purchase of 20 U.S. F-35 fighter planes has raised questions this week among the country's defense analysts, who wonder if the plane is the best solution for defending Israel against Iran.
On Sunday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak approved the deal for the new plane, which is supposed to significantly upgrade Israel's military capability, especially needed in a time when the Iranian nuclear threat looms high. Barak confidently declared that the F-35s "will give the Air Force the best capability in the short and long range and allow Israel to maintain aerial superiority.”
But a report in the Chinese news agency Xinhua raises doubts regarding the price tag, delivery date and effectiveness of the estimated $2.75 billion deal.
Defense commentator Yossi Melman told Xinhua that the planes, which could take more than four years to be delivered and made operational in Israel, may arrive too late to defend Israel against an Iranian attack. "When those planes will arrive, they will have no use," said Melman.
Yiftah Shapir, director of the Military Balance Project at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv University, told the news agency that the $100 million price tag per jet might rise over the next years to $150 million. He also opined that the F-35 was not as maneuverable as the F-16.
The F-35 is also reported to have a limited pay-load capability, but it is known for its top-level computer systems and its ability to reach an enemy target undetected. That aspect would clearly be necessary in a strike on Iran.
"But does that mean this is the plane to stand up to the threats that Israel faces? It's a difficult question that right now has no answers," said Shapir.