America - The Prostitute
Shaul Mofaz
America - The Prostitute
Thu Feb 19 21:22:36 2004

Israel's security chiefs welcome arrival of new F-16I jets

By Haaretz Service and Reuters

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon were in attendance Thursday as the first two in a new fleet of U.S.-made warplanes arrived at a air base in the southern Negev desert.

The two F-16I jets are part of the biggest military purchase - at $4.5 billion - in the history of state. All told, 102 jets are to be delivered by the decade's end.

The F-16Is would upgrade Israel's advantage over Arab foes and extend its reach over much of Iran, whose atomic development program is seen by many in Israel as an existential threat, although Tehran denies having hostile designs.

"We know full well that striving for peace in the Middle East demands demonstrable power... in areas close and far from Israel," Mofaz said at the ceremony.

"What the [F-16I] is capable of doing increases the chance that there will be no need to use this capability."

The two planes, piloted by crews of two - an American and an Israeli - broke through a storm front to land at the base.

Made by Texas-based manufacturer Lockheed-Martin, the F-16 has featured prominently in IDF operations. The first generation of the plane obtained by Israel was used to destroy Iraq's main atomic reactor Osirak in a sneak 1981 raid.

Now Israeli planners are preoccupied with the Iranian nuclear program. Designers say the F-16I's enlarged fuel tanks and sensors, allowing it to skirt the ground even at top speeds, would make it ideal for another preemptive strike in the Gulf.

"The F-16I gives Israel a top-notch strategic advantage including against adversaries as far away as Iran," said Jane's analyst Robert Hewson. He put the maximum range of the F-16I at 1,600 km (1,000 miles), with an option for mid-air refueling.

Iran says its nuclear reactors are solely devoted to civilian uses rather than weaponry.

Western intelligence sources said some Iranian nuclear plants, such as the Natanz uranium-enrichment facility in central Iran, have been built underground and are designed to withstand an aerial attack.

The Bushehr nuclear reactor in southwestern Iran is surrounded by anti-aircraft batteries. ************************************************************

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