Israel was set to receive its first two F-35 fighter jets on Monday evening — an embarrassing several hours late.
The flying bundle of military wizardry, touted as one of the most advanced weapons systems in the world, was held back in Italy by fog, playing havoc with a major welcoming ceremony.
Fast, smart, stealthy and versatile, the F-35 can do it all, say its admirers, justifying its hefty $100 million a piece price tag. Just — preferably — not fly in fog. The planes can absolutely operate in bad weather, officials clarified, but flying in fog is avoided in non-operational circumstances.
The planes, having begun a long journey last week from Texas in the United States all the way to Israel, were held up at the last leg of the trip, on what should have been a short flight from Italy Monday morning, as fog kept the planes grounded ahead of the planned ceremony at the Nevatim air base in southern Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, and US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter were all supposed to welcome the jets as they touched down.
The IDF said in a statement that due to bad weather the fighters were not able to take off from the base where they had stopped. As a result they missed their scheduled 2 p.m. arrival at Nevatim air base in southern Israel.
It was only at around 4 p.m. that the planes finally took off — and even then only after defense officials said they were considering scrapping the ceremony altogether for a clearer day.
“The Italians are not letting the flight take off and in accordance with American regulations the flight will not take off,” an air force official told a scrum of gathered press who had trekked down to the base.
The plane would likely not be flying in operational mode, and in war-time activity would likely be able to overcome inclement weather. For the ceremony though, officials were not keen to risk flying the state-of-the-art machine through cloudy skies.
Earlier in the day, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said the fighter jets “present another component in maintaining air superiority in our region” and expressed gratitude to Carter, who was welcomed with a military honor guard at a Tel Aviv army base.
The state-of-the-art F-35 is poised to become a central pillar of Israel’s air strategy, a senior air force official told reporters last month. The stealth fighter is considered one of the most advanced aircraft in the world, capable of taking on most missile defense batteries, including the Russian S-300, which was recently acquired by Iran and which has been used in Syria, where Israeli planes have recently reportedly flown sorties.
With its advanced stealth capabilities, the plane “lets you operate in these kinds of environments,” the officer said. “I’m not saying the S-300 will look for the F-35 and see nothing, but we will have a strong and effective tool in our hands.”