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Israel orders 17 more F-35 stealth fighters from US

F-35 may be able to evade air defence systems including Russian S-300 missiles, which Iran has deployed to protect Fordo nuclear facility
F-35 stealth warplane in flight (Lockheed Martin)

Israel will order 17 more US-made F-35 warplanes to take its fleet of stealthy Joint Strike Fighters to 50 over the next few years, the prime minister's office said on Sunday.

A statement from Benjamin Netanyahu's office said the security cabinet approved the order.

Israel is due to take delivery of its first Lockheed Martin F-35s next month.

US officials and industry executives say the plane promises to become the ultimate stealth fighter jet, able to evade enemy radar while flying at supersonic speeds.

The F-35, already nicknamed the Adir (Hebrew for mighty or glorious) in Israel, is considered the world's most advanced fighter aircraft, Haaretz reported. The additional purchase will enable Israel's Air Force to outfit two full squadrons of the plane.

Israeli public radio said the purchase will come under the US military aid programme - in September, President Barack Obama signed off on a 10-year military aid package for Israel worth $38bn - the largest in US history.

Israeli company Elbit Systems is taking part in the manufacture of helmets for F-35 pilots, and state-owned Israel Military Industries manufactures aircraft parts.

Public radio on Sunday reported Netanyahu as saying that by ordering 17 additional F-35s, the government "intends to act to strengthen Israel's security and ensure its existence in the coming decades".

"Israel can defend itself with its own forces against all of its enemies, whatever the distance," he said. Israeli leaders have justified the acquisition of the F-35 by raising the spectre of its arch-foe Iran.

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The F-35 is believed to be able to evade air defence systems including Russian-made S-300 missiles, which Iranian state television said in August had been deployed to protect the Fordo nuclear facility.

The Fordo site, built into a mountain near the city of Qom, has stopped enriching uranium since the January implementation of a nuclear deal between the Islamic republic and world powers.

The historic July 2015 agreement removed some international sanctions in return for curbs on Tehran's controversial atomic programme.

Iran denies trying to acquire nuclear weapons.

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Netanyahu has lambasted the landmark deal with Iran as a "historic mistake", and has repeatedly threatened to take military action if necessary to prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Israel is believed to have the Middle East's sole, if undeclared, nuclear arsenal.

The first F-35 squadron is now being established and Israel's first pair of F-35s are scheduled to land in Israel at the Nevatim air force base near Be'er Sheva in two weeks, Haaretz said. They will be flown from the US to Israel by American pilots, with mid-air refuelling over the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean.

The next day, two of the six Israeli pilots who trained in the US to fly the Adir will take over.