New Plant for Producing F-35 Aircraft Wings Opened

$2.7B deal between Israel, US for F-35 production kicks off; Defense Minister insists it proves a strong bond with US despite arguments.

Orly Harari ,

F-35 Lightning II
F-35 Lightning II
US Air Force

Israel Aerospace Industries inaugurated Tuesday a new plant for the manufacture of American fighter pilot wings for F-35 aircraft near Ben Gurion Airport. 

As part of the deal, the IDF will receive 19 stealth aircraft at a cost of $2.7 billion, which will be deducted from US aid funds to Israel. 

In exchange, every year - starting in 2016 - the new plant is expected to provide about a third of the world's production of F-35 wings, with about 810 wings per year - a production volume worth roughly 2.5 billion dollars. 

At the factory's dedication ceremony, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon hailed the "special relationship" between the US and Israel.

"Today, we are here at IAI for the dedication of the production line of the wings of F-35 airplanes," he began. "This is a model of the power of the special relationship between the United States and Israel and between the defense establishments of the two countries and the strength of the State Israel, its people and capabilities."  

Ya'alon reflected on a visit he made last year to Lockheed-Martin factories in Forth Worth, Texas, and the F-35 production line, where he also met the company's top officials.

"It was impossible not to be impressed by the aircraft, which will be flown by the leading armies of the world, including the IDF and the Israeli Air Force, of course; it is impossible not to be impressed also by the enormous commitment of the company to the project, and its longstanding cooperation with Israel." 

"This cooperation is a winner: it's where quality meets quality," he continued. "The strength, quality and world-level excellence of Lockheed-Martin, together with the Israeli excellence, caused the American administration, the Pentagon and the defense industry of the United States to choose, once again, to develop the most advanced technology with the Israeli defense industry."

Ya'alon rebuffed recent concerns over US-Israel relations, which are tense following a series of sharp criticisms from the State Department about construction in Jerusalem.

"This cooperation is a symbol of the connection between the United States and Israel, despite friction," he said. "This is a special relationship, incomparable - the bond between the world's greatest power, the leader of the free world, and its biggest friend: the State of Israel."

"The US has given Israel extensive assistance over the years, especially in the security field, and it is this that helps to Israel to meet the challenges it faces," he added. "As someone who has been following the special relationship closely, I am thrilled every time by the depth of connection and intimacy between the defense establishments, the armies and those who head them. In the turbulent Middle East, where you never know what the future holds, it is an extremely important relationship." 

"No argument, however severe, will mar the relations between the two countries," he concluded. "Israeli citizens owe gratitude to the United States for its contribution to our security and our strength."

Recently, the suggestion has been made that the US's decision to provide funding for such projects as the Iron Dome Missile Defense System and the IAF's fleet gives it free rein to make comments regarding Israel's policies. 

Last month, US President Barack Obama insisted that US funding for Iron Dome was an "American value," and thus provided the justification for criticizing the decision to build 2,610 Jewish homes in the Jewish Givat Hamatos neighborhood of Jerusalem.