The US State Department on Thursday justified selling arms to Israel and Saudi Arabia after a ministerial committee headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
and Defense Minister Ehud Barak
authorized the purchase of 20 F-35
stealth fighter jets.
"Procuring the most advanced fighter jet in the world is a significant step towards bolstering the State of Israel's
military capability," said Netanyahu.
Later Thursday, US State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said that selling American-made military equipment to Israel and Saudi Arabia was a "national interest".
Crowley refused to confirm reports of a $60 billion arms deal to the Saudi government, but justified selling arms to US allies in the Middle East in order to strengthen them before Iran.
Israel's decision to purchase the fighter jets for about NIS 10 billion ($2.66 billion) was preceded by a series of long discussions. Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi
and Air Force Commander Ido Nehushtan participated in Thursday's meeting.
The plane is slated to become operational by 2015, but Israeli pilots will be able to train on them much prior to this in the US.
The F-35 fighter is considered the most advanced fighter jet today.
The main hurdle to signing the deal was its steep price as well as the costs associated with integrating Israeli systems on it. Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz demanded that an additional discussion be held on the matter, but the decision was ultimately made by the ministerial committee.
After receiving the go ahead for acquiring the fighter jets, Defense Minister Barak expressed his hopes that the F-35 will help Israeli maintain its aerial superiority and technological advantage in the region, perhaps even in a face off with Iran.
AFP contributed to this report