It now turns out that unostentatiously, while overseeing the Israel-Palestinian peace talks, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton busied herself last week in Jerusalem with an errand of equal important to Washington: bulldozing Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak into agreeing to buy 35 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning stealth warplanes for the Israeli Air Force at a cost of $4.7 billion.
This transaction Israel can ill afford. debkafile's military sources report it is opposed by senior ministers, especially Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, and even more fiercely by high IDF officers and heads of Israel's Aerospace Industries. Nonetheless, Clinton got her wish; a special committee the Prime Minister set up for the purpose approved the purchase after cutting down the final number of F-35 warplanes from 35 to 20 at a cost of "only" $2.7 billion.
Military chiefs, furious over Netanyahu's hasty action, said it makes nonsense of the drastic cuts just imposed on defense spending and means that the IDF will have to do without certain new weapons systems needed for facing up to threats from Iran, Syria, Hizballah and Hamas. One officer accused the prime minister of "shamefully and needlessly surrendering to American pressure."
debkafile's military sources dismiss reports that Israeli industry will take part in manufacturing the F-35s on sale are untrue. On the contrary, the Americans have laid down tougher limitations than ever before against Israeli access to the production process.
Israeli aeronautical experts and technicians are denied access to the production lines of the plane. Israel's Air Force and Aerospace Industries are prohibited from installing their own homemade systems to the new plane or even altering the Lockheed Martin systems to meet their special needs without prior US consent.
Even Israeli pilots will only see the finished product when it is ready for their instruction. This will happen towards the end of 2011. The first F-35s are scheduled for delivery in 2015.
Two ministers, Steinitz and the former chief of staff Moshe Yaalon, are skeptical about the US plane's ability to contribute much toward enhancing the IAF's standards. Its design has met wide criticism in military aviation circles. They fear that the decision to purchase it was guided by politics rather than military considerations.
Our sources disclose that President Barack Obama instructed Clinton to secure Israel's consent to buy the F-35 without delay to help him get through an increasingly reluctant Congress $60 billion advanced arms transaction with Saudi Arabia.
The Israelis who are against buying the F-35 argue that it is not in Israel's interest to help the Saudis acquire top-line American weaponry, certainly without a guarantee that it may be turned against Israel some time in the future.