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Ash Carter Visits Israel to Welcome F-35 Jets

  • VOA News

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter (C-L) observes an honor guard with Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman in Tel Aviv, Israel, Dec. 12, 2016. (DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley)

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter visited Israel Monday to help celebrate the arrival of the country's first two next-generation F-35 fighter planes built by U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin.

Israel is among several countries that have ordered the jets and has plans to buy 50 of them, at a cost of about $100 million each.

Carter said the United States is "committed to providing Israel with the most advanced military capabilities. ... And, of course, there is no better symbol of the U.S. commitment to Israel's security than the F-35, the most capable aircraft in the skies."

WATCH: Carter Talks of U.S. Commitment to Israel

Speaking at an air force base in Tel Aviv, Carter said the U.S.-Israel defense relationship is stronger than it's ever been and that with the current turmoil in the region, "We're more committed to Israel's security today than ever before."

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman touted the F-35 as a key to the country's military future, saying the planes "present another component in maintaining air superiority in our region."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has threatened in the past to attack Iran's nuclear program, said Israel's "long arm has just become longer."

Netanyahu said history shows that "weak countries do not survive, but power creates deterrence." He then made a veiled reference to Iranian threats to "wipe Israel off the map."

"Anyone who attacks us will be attacked," he said. "And anyone who threatens Israel's existence will put his own survival in danger."

FILE - Two F-35 jets arrive at Hill Air Force Base in northern Utah, Sept. 2, 2015.
FILE - Two F-35 jets arrive at Hill Air Force Base in northern Utah, Sept. 2, 2015.

The jets were supposed to land in Israel from Italy in the afternoon, but their arrival was delayed because of weather conditions, officials said.

The F-35 program has faced criticism for cost overruns, long delays in development and problems during testing.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump on Monday took to Twitter to criticize the program.

"The F-35 program and cost is out of control. Billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases after January 20th," when Trump takes office, Trump said in the tweet.

Following the tweet, Lockheed Martin shares dropped sharply in early trading.

Lockheed Martin responded to Trump's criticism, saying the company has invested "hundreds of millions of dollars" to reduce the price of the F-35 stealth fighter program. Jeff Babione, the executive vice president and general manager of the F-35 program, said he would "welcome the opportunity to address any question that the president-elect would have about the program."

Last week, Trump took aim at another aircraft builder, Boeing, threatening in a tweet to cancel the company's plans to build new Air Force One planes because of spiraling costs.

VOA's Robert Berger in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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