First two F-35 jets en route to Israel

Stealth aircraft to touch down at Nevatim Air Base for reception ceremony to be attended by US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter

The first two F-35 jets purchased from the US are expected in Israel on Monday, and will land at the Nevatim Air Base in southern Israel where a reception ceremony will be held.

The two will be the first of 50 aircraft that Israel has agreed to purchase from US giant Lockheed-Martin.

The stealth fighters set out from one of the company’s Texas locations this week, making a stop near Portugal, and will land in Italy for the weekend before setting out for Israel on Monday morning, Ynet news reported Thursday.

The Israel Defense Forces sent out a video from one of the American pilots flying the jet, known in Hebrew as the “Adir,” meaning mighty or great, who congratulated the Jewish state on its expected receipt of the aircraft.

“It’s a historic moment for you, for the world, and specifically the region, on receiving this jet,” said the pilot who said he goes by the name “Animal.”

The F-35s will fly over the ceremony Monday before landing in front of the audience, Ynet reported.

US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter will attend the reception ceremony, as part of a trip to Asia, Europe and the Middle East, the Pentagon said this week.

The US secretary of defense will join Israel’s political and military upper echelon on stage at the event. He is slated to give a speech at the ceremony and host a press conference afterwards with his counterpart Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, the US Department of Defense said in a statement.

The purchase of the exorbitantly expensive planes — at more than NIS 380 million ($100 million) per plane — is possible, in part, due to the defense aid package given by the United States to Israel each year.

“The arrival of the aircraft highlights the close defense cooperation between the United States and Israel,” the Pentagon said.

Once the F-35 fighter jets arrive, Israel will be the first country after the United States to receive the fifth-generation aircraft.

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.

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.”

“Today Israel is surrounded by unprecedented military threats,” Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said during an unveiling ceremony for the plane in June.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman unveils the F-35 stealth fighter jet, during a ceremony in Fort Worth, Texas, on June 22, 2016. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman unveils the F-35 stealth fighter jet, during a ceremony in Fort Worth, Texas, on June 22, 2016. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

“It is clear and obvious to us, and to the entire region, that the new F-35 — the Adir — will create real deterrence and enhance our capabilities for a long time,” Liberman said.

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