Over the past five decades, Israel has sought to maintain its superiority in the skies over the Middle East.
Two of Lockheed Martin’s F-35s, the most advanced fighter jet in the region, arrived in Israel on Monday. Israel has ordered 50 of them from the United States. Each has a price tag of more than $100 million.
The jets will be stationed at an air force base in Israel’s Negev desert, with Lieutenant Colonel Yotam leading the squadron.The Negev air base has been preparing three years for the stealth fighters, which will not begin patrolling Israel’s skies for another year. But its arrival highlights the close ties between Israel and the US.
The F-35 is part of a $38 billion Memorandum of Understanding between Israel and the US covering a 10-year period beginning in 2019.
“The F-35’s stealth capabilities widen our operational theater. It allows us to bring into action many abilities that are needed from the air force for superiority,” Yotam told CNN. “It allows us to undertake missions that today would demand a lot of planes and platforms to utilize.”
Israel perceives many threats in its neighborhood, including the Syrian conflict, which is on its doorstep. Israel has responded multiple times to artillery and gunfire spilling over from the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.
Israel has previously accused the Assad regime of supplying weapons to Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed militant group based in Lebanon.
Last week, reports from Damascus suggested Israel had targeted weapons shipments bound for Hezbollah for the second time in two weeks. The militant group has been rearming since the last war with Israel in 2006. Israel claims Hezbollah has stockpiled more than 100,000 missiles.
“The F-35 is built to deal with a lot of threats on the ground. It knows how to deal with everything of interest to the Israel Defense Forces outside the borders of Israel,” said Yotam.
But if Israel wants to maintain the ability to hit such targets, it will need to take account of Russia’s S-300 and more advanced S-400 surface-to-air missiles systems that Moscow introduced to Syria a year ago after Turkey shot down a Russian military jet. The missile system presents a challenge to Israel’s regional air superiority.
Acquiring the F-35 is Israel’s response. The fighter can fly virtually undetected.
This is a huge step in securing Israel’s safety given extensive moves from Russia, Syria, Iran, and Lebanon, those who seek to do harm to the Jewish state.