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Israel could purchase additional F-35 squadron from US before Trump leaves office

Israel is hoping to acquire more F-35s [Getty]

Date of publication: 4 January, 2021

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Israel's defence minister has expressed interest in purchasing an additional F-35 squadron.
Israel is hoping to secure the sale of an additional F-35 squadron from the US before President Donald Trump leaves office later in January, according to officials.

Defence Minister Benny Gantz told Israeli Ynet TV that he is in talks with Washington about the possible acquirement of more F-35s, a cutting-edge jet fighter that is also wanted by the UAE.

Israel is said to have green lighted the potential US sale of F-35s to its Gulf ally, the UAE, but would like to expand its own fleet to maintain its military dominance of the region. 

"Without doubt, we need to expand the F-35 array. Right now we have two squadrons. I reckon we will expand that. That is what I requested of the Americans," Gantz told the Israeli broadcaster, according to Reuters.

"I would buy another F-35 squadron and then examine what to do with the balance - continuing to expand the F-35 (procurement), going for F-15s?"
Israel has already ordered two squadrons of F-35s from the US, amounting to around 50 aircraft.

Although the Israeli government is believed to have given its consent to the US supplying F-35 warplanes to the UAE - which Israel normalised relations with in September - the military appears less keen on the sale to Abu Dhabi.

Israeli Air Force chief Amikam Norkin said at a university event in Israel last week that the country must maintain its advantage over Arab militaries, including allies such as the UAE.

"It's less good that there are advanced aircraft in the region. It is not a direct threat to us, but it is a trend that will have an influence on us," Norkin told the Weizmann Institute event, according to The Times of Israel.

Gantz is keen to tie up the deal done before Trump, a firm ally of Israel, leaves office on 20 January and is replaced by Joe Biden as president.

"I hope so. I think the defence budget needs to be handled properly, to be safeguarded. It is a kind of active insurance policy," he said, when asked if the F-35's before Biden's inauguration.

A coalition between Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who heads Likud, and Gantz's Blue and White Party, fell apart last month with Israelis set to head to the polls for the fourth time in two years.

Despite some Democrats opposing the UAE acquiring F-35s due to its bloody role in the Yemen war, the US Congress last month approved a $23 billion weapons sale to Abu Dhabi.

Human rights groups are also concerned of F-35 being used by Israel on attacks in the Palestinian territories, such as the densely populated Gaza Strip.

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