Israeli finance minister urges gov't to reconsider F-35 deal

09:29, August 24, 2010      

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Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz has asked the Cabinet to reassess the just-inked 2.75- billion-U.S. dollars deal to buy a squadron of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) jets, as he thinks the deal may be more than Israel can afford, local news service Ynet reported on Monday.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak signed off on the deal last week, in which the Israeli Air Force (IAF) will order 20 F-35s, in the largest military procurement deal in the country's history.

Delivery of the first stealth-capable aircraft will begin in 2015 and last two years.

Executives at U.S. defense company Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the aircraft, now await the Israeli Political- Security Cabinet's final stamp of approval.

Although the Pentagon authorized the sale more than two years ago, flying the technological cutting-edge comes at a premium cost and hard bargaining between Israel and the U.S. ensued.

The Israeli Defense Ministry said each jet will cost 96 million U.S. dollars, but adding in pilot training, simulators, spare parts and routine maintenance can spiral the price up to a stratospheric 150 million dollars per unit.

Israel plans to finance the deal with the annual U.S. military assistance it receives, estimated at 1.8 billion dollars. Analysts said the need to retain the technological edge in the region was the Jewish state's primary motivation for the purchase.

Critics of the deal, which include senior Israeli army officials, said it will prevent what they said is much-needed investment in the army's ground and naval forces. Neglecting them, they claimed, has the potential for severe long-term implications on the army's overall capabilities.

Steinitz, speaking at the cabinet session on Sunday, stressed that the government must further discuss the "significant economic aspects" of the deal, as well as considering increasing the local military industry's part in producing some of the F-35 systems as a way of balancing out the costs.

The finance minister's remarks were met with some opposition, but some ministers said Steinitz's request for further deliberation on the matter was legitimate. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ended the public debate, and said discussion of the matter should be held in a more discrete forum.

Source: Xinhua


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