The dilemma is clear – the solution will stay ‘in the air’

The outcome is almost certain – Israel will purchase more F-35s in addition to the 20 that are included in the contract signed last year.

The purchase of the additional stealth fighters is a main issue in the deliberations that take place in recent weeks in the general staff of the Israeli defence forces.

The outcome does not diminish the dilemma. This dilemma is not new but as weapon systems become much more expensive we try to solve it – is the weapon system we buy today and will be fielded in the coming years the answer to future threats?

With a deal price of more than $2.75 billion for the first 20 F-35s, one could expect that this dilemma was evaluated seriously and solved. In reality, this did not happen.

The Israeli government has approved the deal with almost no real debate. The Israeli airforce (IAF) has been spoiled during the years and gets what it wants without real opposition. Signs of opposition from the minister of finance were brushed aside by his colleague from the defence ministry,  and that paved the way to the signing of the huge contract.

Can the Israeli defence ministry really know what the operational need will be in 2016 when the deliveries of the F-35s will begin? This question is even more disturbing when we think about the second batch.

When each F-35 carries a price tag of about $137 million, the question should always be: ‘Is it worth the price?’

When trying to solve the above-mentioned dilemma, the special situation in the Middle East should be kept in mind. Israel has the most powerful and most trained airforce in the region. The imminent threat is currently from Iran, a country on the threshold of establishing nuclear weapons.

At the same time, Iran has an airforce with very limited capabilities. Does Israel need a stealth fighter with a $137 million price tag attached to its wings to attack the nuclear facilities? The answer, according to many experts, is negative. They say that the current fleet of fighters operated by the IAF can, with the right EW systems, achieve the same element of surprise.

But dilemmas will stay dilemmas and the IAF will continue to get the lion’s share of the Israeli defence budget.

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