Israel was the first Middle East nation to purchase the advanced US F-35 stealth plane, but others are fast catching up, and threatening to challenge Israel’s cherished “military edge.”
This week, the Israeli air force took delivery of a pair of these super-plane, dubbed “Adir” (Hebrew for Mighty), raising its F-35 fleet to 12, with another 38 due later to round off the transaction for 50 units. However, the IAF is thinking hard before deciding whether to stick with taking more F-35 jets or switching to advanced versions of the F-15 fighter-bomber. Boeing has produced an F-15SE Silent Eagle strike fighter which is an upgraded version equipped with stealth features, such as an internal weapons carriage and radar-absorbent material. Aviation experts say that, with the addition of Israeli high-grade avionics and electronics, the new F-15E fighter could outperform the F-35 and F-22 Raptor.
DEBKA Weekly’s military sources say that Israel has three more pressing reasons for alternating the backbone aircrafts of its air fleet.
- More and more Middle East nations are standing in line to buy this super plane, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Egypt and Turkey. The introduction of US F-35s to those air forces would narrow Israel’s advantage in aerial combat.
- Moscow is aggressively marketing its new Su-57 stealth plane to all and sundry in the Middle East and Gulf. Israel looked askance when the Russians brought the Su-57 to Syria in February for a series of test operations.
- Most importantly, the IAF and Israeli intelligence are watching with growing concern Moscow’s marketing campaign in the Middle East and Asia of its S-400 Triumf (NATO codenamed SA-21 Growler) which is one of the best air defense systems in production today. Russia is in negotiation for the sale of batteries to India, Turkey, Qatar, Egypt and the UAE.
The prospect of the Middle East becoming awash with F-35 super planes and sophisticated S-400 air defense missiles is a nightmare for Israel, but also for the United States. Russian instructors, flying to those countries to train local teams in the use of the S-400 radar and fire control systems, will be on hand to gather sensitive intelligence on the F-35 and its secret capabilities. Such data in Russian hands would allow its manufacturers to upgrade both their S-400 systems and the assault and electronic systems of their own Su-57 stealth planes.
The Americans are most concerned about India, the leading customer for US and Israeli advanced weaponry. If Delhi purchases the Russian air defense system, it will be snapped up by clients in other parts of the world. On Wednesday, June 27, sources in Washington disclosed that India will be offered the American Terminal High Altitude Area as an alternative ballistic missile defense system, when Nirmala Sitharaman, its defense minister, and Sushma Swaraj, its external affairs minister, are in Washington on July 6 for the Indo-US 2+2 dialogue.
Another potential buyer is Qatar. Saudi Arabia warned this emirate, with whom it has a running quarrel, that its purchase of a Russian S-400 system would jeopardize Saudi national security and threatened military action if the deal goes through.