Israel worked behind the scenes to ensure the United States blocked the sale of its F-35 stealth fighter jets to Turkey as part of its efforts to preserve its military qualitative edge in the region, Channel 12 reported Wednesday.
Israel in recent months lobbied Washington to drop Ankara from the F-35 program after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan went ahead with a purchase of a Russian-made missile defense system that would give Turkey advanced air capabilities.
Washington said the S-400 missile defense batteries would compromise the F-35 program and aid Russian intelligence. Channel 12 reported that Israeli officials were similarly concerned that details of the aircraft’s advanced capabilities would leak to neighboring countries.
In a major break with a longtime ally, US President Donald Trump earlier this month announced that Ankara was being kicked out of the F-35 program for purchasing the Russian-made system.
The White House said the American fighter jet program “cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities.”
Turkey — which had ordered more than 100 of the F-35s for some $1.4 billion — dismissed claims the Russian system would be a danger to the American warplanes, and urged Washington to reverse its decision.
The fifth-generation F-35 has been lauded as a “game-changer” by the military, not only for its offensive and stealth capabilities, but for its ability to connect its systems with other aircraft and form an information-sharing network.
Israel has agreed to purchase at least 50 F-35 fighter jets from the US defense contractor Lockheed Martin. So far, 16 aircraft have been delivered, and the remaining planes are slated to arrive batches of twos and threes until 2024.
Israel is the second country after the US to receive the F-35 from Lockheed Martin and one of the few allowed to modify the state-of-the-art aircraft, known in Israel as the Adir.
In 2018, the Israeli Air Force revealed it had used the F-35 operationally — including at least once over Lebanon — making it the first military in the world to do so.