By Ben Tinsley
FORT WORTH — Israeli Air Force’s (IAF’s) first F-35 joint-strike fighter — a fifth-generation aircraft — was officially unveiled during a special ceremony at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth production facility on Wednesday, June 22.
The aircraft has impressed quite a few people.
“Just looking at the plane, you can feel the power coming from it,” marveled Rabbi Andrew Bloom of Fort Worth’s Congregation Ahavath Sholom. “In the middle of the ceremony, the curtain dropped and the plan was revealed. Then we had a chance to get up close and see it. It was even more impressive up close.”
Bob Goldberg, executive director at Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County, enthusiastically agreed.
“The plane itself is incredible,” Goldberg said. “I have never seen anything so cool. To be in a room with so many political and military leaders from the U.S. and Israel was, ‘Wow!’ And to see the close relationships and mutual respect between the Israeli Air Force and U.S. Air Force, between the Pentagon professionals and Israeli officials was wonderful to experience.”
Lon Werner, president of the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County, said he was impressed by the plane and the subjects covered during the ceremony.
“It was gratifying to hear dignitaries from both the U.S. and Israel express mutual concerns about shared foreign threats,” Werner said. “And there was reassurance about U.S. protection for the security of Israel.”
As many as 300 people attended this special ceremony at Lockheed Martin, including Greg Abbott, governor of Texas; Daniel Agranov, consul of Israel; Eitan Levon, consul general of Israel to the Southwest; and AIPAC President Lillian Pinkus.
Consul Levon recalled that back in 2010, Israel was the first country to select the F-35.
“We were proud to be part of the ceremony to receive the first F-35 for Israel,” he said.
“… The years of partnership into the F-35 symbolizes the strong relationship between the United States and Israel in terms of advance technology sharing and global military capability.”
Consul Agranov, meanwhile, was very upbeat about the occasion.
“I was excited to be part of this event that celebrated the biggest purchase in recent history between my two favorite lone star states — Israel and Texas,” Agranov said.
Rabbi Bloom said a representative of the Israeli Air Force asked him to put together a list of local leaders interested in attending. Rabbi Bloom came up with 10 people, including rabbis, cantors and some lay leaders.
Charlie Cytron-Walker, rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, said it was good to know that the first two Israeli F-35s are expected to touch down at Nevatim Air Base in southern Israel in December.
They will achieve initial operational capability status a year later, according to the IAF.
Rabbi Cytron-Walker said he spoke with many people about the event — from the Israeli government, to local residents, to his own congregation. There was a unanimous response.
“There is a lot of pride,” Charlie Cytron-Walker said. “There are a lot of good feelings. The real game changer is that the Israeli Air Force says it’s going to enhance security and help make a difference. I have to assume that’s going to be the case.”
Bob Goldberg said planes made by Lockheed have had an enormous impact on the modern history of Israel. Knowing that they will continue to provide Israel with a key security tool and that they are made right here in Fort Worth is very good information to have, he said.
“It is a proud moment to see the collective work of Lockheed Martin, of Israel and the U.S. working together to create the next generation of fighter jets and help keep Israel safe,” Goldberg said.
Rabbi Bloom said the Israeli Air Force has named the new F-35 squadron “Adir” in Hebrew. He said Adir itself translates to “mighty one” in English.
“However, it is not the translation of the word that is significant; rather, it is the source of the choice itself that lends true meaning to Israel’s newest and most powerful deterrent,” Rabbi Bloom said.
Jordan Ottenstein, the assistant rabbi of Beth-El Congregation, also attended the rollout and posted on his Facebook account June 22 that he was very impressed.
“Hearing the governor, American ambassador to Israel, and the Israeli Defense Minister, along with other dignitaries, speak was very interesting,” Rabbi Ottenstein wrote. “Seeing the new plane and the Lockheed facility was incredible.”
Rabbi Ottenstein said the IAF expects to eventually oversee the replacement of other onboard systems, including the installation of Israeli weapons and possibly electronic warfare capabilities.
In an email, Eric Schnaible, F-35 international communications manager for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company, confirmed the June 22 presentation precedes two IAF F-35A Adir aircraft set to arrive at Nevatim Air Base in the Negev Desert, Israel, Dec. 12.
The program itself promotes further sharing of technology and knowledge between countries, and facilitates opportunities in manufacturing for Israel’s sophisticated defense industry.
The Israel Air Force is planning to decommission its fleet of aging F-15s and F-16s, and it is hoped the incoming F-35 can continue to ensure the country’s global competitiveness.
Israel has ordered 33 F-35A aircraft and hopes to obtain government approval for the acquisition of an additional 17 of them.
Rabbi Bloom said the plane sends a powerful signal that military cooperation is extremely strong between the USA and Israel.
“No doubt it is very real and very deep,” Rabbi Bloom said.
“Which is good,” Bloom added. “Because right now among the biggest threats to Israel is the threat of a nuclear Iran.”
At the same time, another big threat to Israel is the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, Bloom said.
BDS continues to be very pervasive on college campuses throughout the Lone Star State, with its practitioners seeking to delegitimize Israel.
Rabbi Bloom said the F-35 can act as a deterrent to a nuclear Iran. The aircraft will have a greater capacity for weapons and stealth and the ability to reach Iran and destroy their nuclear capabilities, he said.
“The F-35 is one of the latest and most technological answers to the external Iranian threat,” the rabbi said.
Incidentally, the first Israeli F-35 squadron has already been established, with both pilots and maintenance crews currently training at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.
The first two squadrons will eventually be based at Nevatim, with a third perhaps set at a different location.
IAF Chief of Staff Brig. Gen. Kelman reported June 21 that the IAF aims to achieve a near-independent maintenance capability so that the F-35s spend as little time outside Israel as possible.
Israel will install its own cyber defense systems on its F-35s.
Gov. Abbott, who said there is a “deep and enduring bond” between Texas and Israel, said the security this ensures is paramount to survival.
“Security must be the top priority for our nations,” Abbott said. “Strength sends a very clear message to enemies.
“The F-35 makes Israel even stronger.”
Rabbi Bloom said the jet is extremely “impressive, slick and confidence-building.
“I say this as a rabbi, as a former Israeli solider and as a proud Zionist,” Bloom said. “My wife also served in the Israeli Air Force, so my connections run deep.”
In addition to posting about his experience on Facebook, Rabbi Bloom said he “gave a talk” about the F-35 aircraft during Shabbat services June 25.
“It was well attended and went very well,” he said.