Barak's F-35 Purchase: Maybe Not

Finance Min. objects to buying radar-evading planes; Netanyahu agrees to reconsider. Deal comes with defense contracts worth more than the planes.

Hillel Fendel , | updated: 2:56 PM

F-35 Evader
F-35 Evader
Israel news photo: Lockheed Martin

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz is not happy with Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s recent decision to purchase 20 F-35 “Evader” airplanes from the United States - and the decision will be reconsidered.

Three Objections
Steinitz says the planes are simply too expensive, and has asked Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu not to rely on Barak’s opinion alone on the matter. Netanyahu has agreed to discuss the matter in a more extensive forum, the composition of which is yet to be announced. 

Steinitz also objects to the deal on the grounds that the U.S. has refused to install Israeli systems on the plane. These systems would improve its capabilities, perpetuating Israel’s air superiority in the region even if, as expected, Saudi Arabia or other Arab countries purchase the same plane.

It has also been noted that the delivery date of the F-35, four years from now, is likely to be too late for use against the Iranian nuclear threat.

In Favor of the F-35
On the other hand, the F-35 plane "will give the [Israel] Air Force the best capability in the short and long range, and will allow Israel to maintain aerial superiority,” Minister Barak said upon making the decision to purchase it. Though the F-35 has a limited pay-load capability, it is known for its ability to reach an enemy target undetected and it possesses top-level computer systems.

The F-35 is set to cost approximately $137.5 million, making it the most expensive plane ever purchased by Israel. Israel originally considered buying 75 of them, but the prohibitive price tag was instrumental in bringing this number down to 20, for a total of $2.75 billion. No other country has yet purchased the F-35.

In actuality, the price will be returned to Israel and then some, in the form of defense contracts. The value of work that F-35 manufacturer Lockheed Martin is prepared to give Israeli defense companies could amount to up to 180% of the cost of the entire deal, reports Defense News. This extraordinarily high return for an international arms deal has raised some eyebrows, and even criticism, in the U.S. Other countries generally receive between 40% and 100% in defense contracts when purchasing American weapons.

Lockheed Martin said that if Israel buys 20 F-35s, it would award Israeli companies contracts worth $4 billion for work related to the plane’s production. An option for another $1 billion over the course of ten years is also part of the deal.

No date has been announced for the next discussion of the purchase.