Israel signs contract to buy US-made fighter jets that can reach Iran under radar

By Dave Bryan, AP
Thursday, October 7, 2010

Israel signs contract to buy US-made fighter jets

NEW YORK — The U.S. and Israeli governments signed an agreement Thursday for Israel’s purchase of a squadron of 20 American-made F-35 stealth fighter jets that have the capability of reaching Iran undetected by radar.

Ministry of Defense Director-General Ehud Shani said at a signing ceremony at the Israeli consulate here that the jets would shift the balance of power in the Middle East, strengthening Israel’s ability to defend its borders or counter with its own attack.

“In the region there are a lot of problems and challenges, and part of the solution are military capabilities,” he said.

Israel considers Iran a strategic threat, and the warplanes would be capable of reaching Iran undetected by radar. Israel cites Iran’s calls for the destruction of the Jewish state, its suspect nuclear program and its missiles as reasons for the threat.

Israel, the United States and others have accused Iran of seeking to use its Bushehr nuclear power plant and other civil nuclear sites as a cover for a secret program to develop atomic weapons, though Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful.

There was no immediate response to messages left with Iranian officials in Tehran and with Iran’s U.N. Mission in New York on Thursday.

“This is a very important step toward ensuring a free and secure Israel,” said U.S. Navy Vice Admiral David J. Venlet, the executive military officer who oversees the F-35 Lightning II Program. The signing ceremony was attended by U.S. military and other officials.

Israel has hinted it might take military action if international efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear program fail.

“Iran is a problem for all of the democratic and free world,” Shani said. “One of the answers is the F-35.”

Officials said Thursday the deal — seven years in the making — includes the purchase of 20 of the jets at a cost of nearly $2.75 billion. The aircraft will be adapted to Israeli technical specifications and delivery is expected between 2015 and 2017.

The Israelis have an option to purchase 55 more of the aircraft after that, and Shani said Israel intends to do that.

Israel’s embassy in Washington released a statement Thursday calling the F-35 the most advanced fighter jet in the world and one that will “enhance Israel’s ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat or combination of threats, from anywhere within the Middle East.”

The United States agreed during President George W. Bush’s administration to upgrade its strategic cooperation with Israel and supply it with $30 billion in advanced weaponry and equipment.

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