Thank you and welcome. It’s an honor to be here. To our Israeli guests: bruchim haba’im.
This fine day has been a long time coming. It’s first and foremost a day to celebrate and offer congratulations to all who helped make it possible. To the members of the U.S. armed services, led by General Bogden, Deputy Undersecretary Grant, to the talented, dedicated men and women of Lockheed Martin and their many partners, led here by Marillyn Hewson and Orlando Carvalho, to the representatives of our national, state and local government partners, led by Governor Abbot of the great state of Texas, and I’ll offer greetings also to members of Congress who have been so supportive even if they are not able to be here today. So my warmest congratulations to all of you.
I also want to offer a warm welcome to our Israeli friends. They’re led here by the Minister of Defense, Avigdor Lieberman. I was privileged to join Minister Lieberman in his meeting with Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter this week, in which they both reaffirmed the unshakeable commitment of the U.S.-Israel alliance, and our extraordinary security partnership. The delegation also includes representatives of the Israel Defense Forces, and especially the Israel Air Force, led by Brigadier General Tal Kalman, who, through joint training, common values, and shared commitment to defend against the common threats we face in the Middle East, have become such close partners and friends, to me, to so many members of the armed forces, and to the United States.
So on behalf of the American people, and all my colleagues in the Obama Administration, to my Israeli friends I want to say, congratulations on my new plane. As they say in Hebrew—eizeh yofi shel matos—“what a beautiful airplane!”
The addition of the F-35 joint strike fighter to the Israel Air Force continues a long history of Americans helping Israel defend itself with airborne platforms.
When Israel was a brand new nation, fighting for its very survival, it was volunteer American pilots in the Machal, the foreign volunteer unit, like Lou Lenart, flying the few barely flightworthy planes Israel had managed to acquire, who helped stop the advance of the invading neighboring armies.
Later, it was the arrival of A-4 Skyhawks, and F-4 Phantoms, and C-130 Hercules aircrafts, as Israel turned to the United States as its main arms supplier after the six days war. I recently met a group of American pilots, now in their 70s, who had been among the first to train Israeli pilots on the A-4s, on a moving reunion visit to Israel, as the last A-4 Skyhawk was retired.
Later still, F-15s and F-16s became the workhorses of the Israel Air Force, and any Israeli child can identify their profile, and recognize their familiar roar. We recently welcomed the C-130J into the Israel Air Force. And now, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Adir, this magnificent aircraft, built here in Texas, with wings and helmet mounted displays and other key technologies fashioned in Israel, will take its place as the backbone of the Israel Air Force for the next generation.
The F-35, with its extraordinary capabilities, will allow Israel to reinforce its deterrent power, maintain its legendary quick response capabilities when new threats emerge, and provide Israel with a dynamic and unmatched ability against a wide range of missions.
Israel is the first country outside of the United States to receive this revolutionary new aircraft. It is said often, but it bears repeating, that the United States and President Obama are absolutely committed to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge against any threat or combination of threats that Israel may face. The F-35 is just the latest manifestation of that unbreakable and long-standing commitment.
Since the day I arrived in Israel as United States Ambassador 5 years ago, I have consistently been asked one question by my friends in the Israel Air Force: “How soon can we get the F-35 to Israel?” Well, the wait is nearly over. Less than six months from today, many of us will be standing on the tarmac at Nevatim Air Force base when the first F-35s touch down on Israeli soil. So I say to my Israeli friends today, let the countdown begin. Congratulations, and thank you.