Shlomo Shamir
October 7, 2010 - 12:00am

The purchase of U.S.-made F-35 stealth fighters ushers in a new era in Israel's ability to face security challenges, both near and far, a top Israeli security official said at a ceremony Thursday which finalized Israel's purchase of its first batch of advanced fighter jets.

Under the contract signed in New York on Thursday by Ehud Shani, director general of the Israeli Ministry of Defense, Israel will get 20 of the warplanes for nearly $3 billion and will receive the jets in 2016. It has an option for 75 more.

Speaking at the New York ceremony, Shani said the singing represented "an historic event and a new era in Israel's military might in the face of challenges both near and far," in what could be construed as a reference to the role the advanced fighters could have in a potential strike of Iran's nuclear facilities.

The warplanes would be capable of reaching Iran undetected by radar.Shani also said that the newly signed deal was "another expression of [Israel's] strategic alliance with the United States and its commitment to maintain Israel's military edge," indicating that "Israel intends to purchase more stealth squadrons. There's a reason the option to buy more planes is in place."

The signing attended by the head of the Pentagon's F-35 pentagon Vice Admiral David Venlet, Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force, International Affairs, Office of the Secretary of the Air Force Heidi Honecker Grant, as well Lockheed Martin's Executive Vice President Ralph D. Heath.

Last month, a ministerial panel headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak made a final decision to purchase 20 new F-35 fighter jets, despite opposition from a number of senior defense officials over the high cost of the deal.

Barak gave his go-ahead last month to purchase the jets in a deal valued at around $2.75 billion. The first planes are expected to arrive in 2015.

The Israel Air Force, however, will have to make do with considerably fewer planes than the 75 originally sought. The entire deal will be funded by American military.


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