JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel and the United States inaugurated a production line for the manufacture of wings for F-35 fighter jets.
The ceremony was held Tuesday at Israel Aircraft Industries near Tel Aviv. Among those on hand were Moshe Yaalon, Israel’s minister of defense, and Daniel Shapiro, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, as well as officials from Lockheed Martin and IAI.
“The special relationship between the United States and Israel is stronger than any disagreement,” Yaalon said, referring to the current flap between the White House and Israel in which an Obama administration official told a U.S. reporter that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a “chickenshit” over several issues. “And there is no dispute on the gratitude that the people of Israel owe the United States for supporting our strength and security.”
Yaalon said he did not feel that he was cold-shouldered during his recent visit to Washington, where he requested and was denied visits with Obama administration officials.
“Some of the people could not see me since I came at an inconvenient time and they were not in town,” he said.
The state-of-the-art automated line is expected to produce four sets of wings per month that will later be attached to the F-35 fuselage in the United States. IAI is scheduled to produce more than 800 pairs of wings over the next decade. The first set will be ready for delivery to Lockheed Martin by mid-2015.
The potential sales are estimated at $2.5 billion.
Another Israeli company, Elbit Systems Ltd, will produce helmets for the F-35 pilots, according to reports.
Israel has bought 19 F-35s at a cost of $2.75 billion, with deliveries to begin in 2016, and plans to purchase more than a dozen more.
Meanwhile, Yaalon last week canceled a planned purchase from the United States of the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, which hovers and lands like a helicopter and flies like an airplane, due to budget cuts and changing military priorities.