White Elephant in the Sky: By Moshe Feiglin
When I became aware of high-level government corruption (as an MK I became deeply involved with uncovering the corruption in the Sarel Medical Company) I repeatedly claimed that the largest swamp of corruption is in the Defense Ministry. The tape recordings revealed by former PM Ehud Olmert’s secretary, Shula Zaken, of Olmert describing how he received kickbacks from former Defense Minister Ehud Barak for every weapons deal – and where he hid the money – are seriously more incriminating than anything being uncovered now about PM Netanyahu. But because it was Ehud Barak, the entire affair was silenced.
The fact that the Defense Ministry under Barak made a huge purchase of the white elephant F-35 fighter jet (the jet’s development was never completed and President Trump is considering shelving the entire project) begs a deep examination of the considerations that led to this farce.
The F-35 is the most expensive weapons development project in history. Its development encountered serious difficulties. Israel debated for years as to whether the investment in the jet was worthwhile. Ultimately, after unprecedented negotiations in terms of the pressure and limitations applied to Israel in their course, it was decided to purchase the jet, at a heavy price.
A major selling point of the F-35 is its ‘stealth’ capabilities. In other words, it is more difficult for radar to track the plane. But this capability comes at the expense of serious shortcomings. As compared to the F-15I, the Israel Air Force’s strategic plane, the F-35 in its stealth mode:
- Cannot reach the nuclear installations deep inside Iran without refueling. The
F-15I can do so.
- Carries a much lighter payload than the F-15I
- Cannot carry the large bunker-buster bombs that the US supplied to Israel. Israel’s F-15I planes can carry them.
- Cannot carry air-to-air missiles made by Israel, which are the best in the world. As a result, Israel was forced to spend an additional half billion dollars to purchase the less efficient US missiles.
- Many weapons systems developed in Israel for its air force cannot be installed on the F-35. The F-15Is are completely outfitted with these systems.
The list above is not complete, but we will suffice with those points.
Today, the Israel Air Force has only one F-15I squadron, its strategic fighter jet. In November, 2016, even before the first F-35 reached Israel, the government decided to increase its F-35 armament to two squadrons, with an option to add a third. But despite the fact that the F-35 is more ‘stealthy’ and much newer, it was publicized that Israel is still considering the purchase of an additional F-15I squadron instead of the F-35.
In an interview upon the arrival of the first F-35s in Israel, the Air Force Chief of Staff emphasized that their anticipated role would be in intelligence assistance for the other jet fighters. When asked if Israel would have to buy additional F-15s in the future, or just F-35s, his answer was: “It’s not simple.”
Zehut does not pretend to know how many jets of what type the Air Force needs. But clearly the decision to equip the Air Force with F-35s was extremely out of the ordinary, presenting many questions when compared with previous army acquisitions. So why did Israel spend seven and a half billion dollars from its US ‘aid’ budget to buy F-35s? Is it because they really are the most useful and vital for the IDF? Or is it because the US applied heavy pressure and ‘convincing techniques’ upon Israel’s decision makers so that Israel would buy their newest jet – and not necessarily the jet most useful and vital for it?