Now that the State of Israel has normalized relations with the United Arab Emirates news has circulated that Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), one of the nation’s major aerospace and aviation manufacturers, could produce wings for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. According to the report from the Israeli daily business newspaper Calcalist, those wings would be on fighters destined for sale to the UAE.
IAI operates a facility in Lod near Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport, and it is one of the three manufacturers in the world producing wings for the F-35. While the main production for the wings is at the Lockheed Martin facility in Fort Worth, Texas, those aircraft are primarily supplied to the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marines. Another production line in Italy is used to supply aircraft wings purchased by NATO countries, while the production line in Lod was established to produce the aircraft wings and other components for the rest of the world.
The Lod facility has produced about 100 pairs of wings at a cost of around $3 million each.
The facility also produces wings for the F-35I Adir, a variation of the Lightning II that is operated only by the Israeli Air Force (IAF). Similar to the F-35A, the Adir is a conventional take-off and landing F-35 variant with most of its differences being on the inside including a modified weapons bay that can better accommodate domestic Israeli weapons. The plane is also equipped with Israeli-built electronics and sensors. Israel is currently the only Middle Eastern state to operate the aircraft and currently has two squadrons with twenty-five F-35s each.
Sale or No Sale
The reports have been mixed on whether Israel would agree to allow the UAE to operate the fifth-generation stealth fighter jet. Initially Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supported the green light on the F-35 sale, but had to reverse his position after facing backlash from hardliners within his government.
For his part, U.S. President Donald Trump said he supported the sale. However, despite the President’s stance the sale would still require the approval of Congress. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has warned that any such deal would demand congressional scrutiny and currently Congress is pledged to protect Israel’s military edge over its potential regional rivals.
It has been U.S. policy, which was codified into U.S. law in 2008, to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME), which essentially means sustained Israeli military superiority that deters Israel’s rivals. Moreover, if deterrence fails, then American assistance is required to ensure a clear, decisive offensive or defensive triumph at an acceptable cost.
In his recent trip to the region, United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly told Netanyahu that Washington would ensure Israel’s military advantage in any future arms deals with Abu Dhabi.
The UAE remains an important U.S. partner in the region, and it is a stable, moderate Arab nation that has fought against ISIS, the Taliban and supports maintains and anti-Iranian stance. However, as has been seen before, alliances shift and one time friends can quickly turn to arch rivals in the region. Yet, today with Iran being the greatest threat it is likely Israel could supply the UAE and potentially other Arab nations with military hardware including parts for the F-35.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.