Israel advancing deals with US to purchase fighter jets, helicopters and munitions

Amid war in Gaza and fighting against Iran-backed groups, Israel seeking faster delivery than usual; signing expected in coming weeks

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Israeli F-35i and American F-15 jets hold an exercise over Israel, November 29, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)
Israeli F-35i and American F-15 jets hold an exercise over Israel, November 29, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

Amid Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza and fighting against other Iran-backed terror groups in the Middle East, Israeli defense officials are advancing a number of key defense deals with the United States, which would see the country procure new fighter jets, attack helicopters and a continued supply of munitions.

On Thursday, Defense Ministry Director-General Eyal Zamir wrapped up a working visit to Washington, during which he met with senior Pentagon and State Department officials, as well as executives from major US defense companies to discuss the advancement of the deals.

Defense sources told The Times of Israel later Thursday that Israel’s plans to procure a new squadron of 25 F35i stealth fighter jets, a squadron of 25 F-15IA fighter jets — the Israeli variant of the advanced F-15EX — and a squadron of 12 Apache helicopters were advanced during the discussions.

The deals, some of which have been previously published, have not yet been signed, despite a report by Channel 12 news on Thursday claiming so.

Last year, Israel submitted formal requests to the US regarding the procurement of the F-35 fighters and F-15 jets.

The procurement of the Apache helicopters follows lessons learned from Hamas’s October 7 attack and the fighting in the Gaza Strip, according to defense sources.

An Israeli Apache helicopter fires a missile in the direction of the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Monday, Dec. 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

There was no immediate timeline for the delivery of the fighter jets and helicopters, and previous such deals have taken several years for the first aircraft to be shipped. Israel is expected to push for faster delivery.

As part of the discussions, the Defense Ministry delegation also worked to advance the continued supply of American munitions amid the war.

At least 250 cargo planes and more than 20 ships have delivered more than 10,000 tons of armaments and military equipment to Israel since the start of the war.

For the deals to be advanced further and signed by Israel, they require government approval, a move that defense sources say may occur within the next few weeks.

US-supplied military equipment arriving in Israel, December 2023. (Ministry of Defense Spokesperson’s Office)

Israel had previously agreed to purchase 50 F-35 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin. They are being delivered in batches of twos and threes until 2024.

The military is also looking to both add to and upgrade its existing fleet of F-15s, which can carry the kind of heavy weapons Israel would need to penetrate Iran’s nuclear sites, most of which are buried deep underground.

Following the October 7 onslaught, during which some 3,000 Hamas-led terrorists burst into southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages, mostly civilians, as well as the continued fighting in Gaza, the Israeli military concluded it required additional combat helicopters to prevent such attacks.

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