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Israel orders more F-35 warplanes from US

JERUSALEM (AFP) – 

Israel will order 17 more US-made F-35 warplanes to take its fleet of stealthy Joint Strike Fighters to 50 over the next few years, the premier’s office said Sunday.

A statement from Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the green light for the order was given by the security cabinet.

The Jewish state is due to take delivery of its first F-35s next month.

US officials and industry executives insist the plane promises to become the ultimate stealth fighter jet, able to evade enemy radar while flying at supersonic speeds.

Outfitted with elaborate software, the F-35 resembles a flying computer.

Through the visor of a hi-tech helmet linked to on-board cameras, the pilot can “see” through the cockpit floor to the ground below — providing an unprecedented 360-degree view.

Israeli public radio said the purchase will come under the US military aid programme — in September, President Barack Obama signed off on a 10-year military aid package for Israel worth $38 billion — the largest in US history.

Israeli company Elbit Systems is taking part in the manufacture of hi-tech helmets for F-35 pilots, and state-owned Israel Military Industries manufactures aircraft parts.

Public radio on Sunday reported Netanyahu as saying that by ordering 17 additional F-35s, the government “intends to act to strengthen Israel’s security and ensure its existence in the coming decades”.

“Israel can defend itself with its own forces against all of its enemies, whatever the distance,” he said. Israeli leaders have justified the acquisition of the F-35 by raising the spectre of its arch-foe Iran.

The F-35 is believed to be able to evade air defence systems including Russian-made S-300 missiles, which Iranian state television said in August had been deployed to protect the Fordo nuclear facility.

The Fordo site, built into a mountain near the city of Qom, has stopped enriching uranium since the January implementation of a nuclear deal between the Islamic republic and world powers.

The historic July 2015 agreement removed some international sanctions in return for curbs on Tehran’s controversial atomic programme.

Iran denies seeking to acquire nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu has lambasted the landmark deal with Iran as a “historic mistake”, and has repeatedly threatened to take military action if necessary to prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Israel is believed to have the Middle East’s sole, if undeclared, nuclear arsenal.

© 2016 AFP