TEL AVIV (Dec. 12)
The first three F-15 Eagle jet interceptors of 25 ordered by Israel from the U.S. landed at an Air Force base Friday afternoon to an unprecedented public welcome. Ordinarily, the delivery of new weapons is cloaked in secrecy.
But this time, some 3000 invited guests and dignitaries were on hand, headed by Premier Yitzhak Rabin, Chief of Staff Gen, Mordechai Gur and Air Force Commander Gen. Benjamin Peled Israel apparently wants to give maximum publicity to the fact that it is receiving one of the most advanced, sophisticated and lethal combat aircraft in the world and, in the words of Rabin, the best in the Middle East.
The aircraft, which have an effective range of 5000 kilometers, a ceiling of 67,000 feet and supersonic speeds in excess of Mach 2,5, flew to Israel directly from their manufacturer, the McDonnell-Douglas Corp. in St. Louis, Mo. They made the 7000-mile flight in less than it hours with one re-fueling stop. The aircraft were flow by test pilots of McDonnell-Douglas. At the request of Israeli authorities, one of them put on a display of aerial acrobatics that drew gasps from the throngs on the ground.
Rabin, speaking in Hebrew and English, thanked the U.S. and hailed the delivery as a holiday occasion for Israel. He expressed the hope that the planes would serve as a deterrent to war and help Israel achieve the peace it wants so badly. Gur said that with the F-15s, Israel’s Air Force enters a new era. He also stressed the deterrent factor.
The arrival of the aircraft late Friday raised an outcry from religious circles about Sabbath desecration. It was well after dark before the ceremonials were over and the throngs leaving the air base in cars apparently offended religious sensibilities. The National Religious Party ministers said they would submit a protest motion. MK Yehuds Ben Meir of the NRP accused the government of wasting money on exhibitions that had a political flavor.