An Israeli cabinet panel has rejected a decision of the defense minister to procure an additional 31 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and limited the procurement of Israel’s second batch of JSFs to only 13.

It is unprecedented that the ministerial committee on defense procurement would reverse an air force requirement that was already approved by the defense minister, the former government and the National Security Council. The Israel air force, which currently has 19 F-35s on order under a $2.74 billion contract, will have to be satisfied with a total of 32 aircraft in the coming years, and will not be able to complete two full squadrons as planned.

Defense Minister Moshe "Bogie" Ya’alon, who had already concluded with the Pentagon the terms of a $4.4 billion contract for an additional 31 F-35s, is now asking the DOD to maintain the same terms for a smaller number of aircraft. The U.S. has agreed to grant Israel $2.4 billion in credit for the deal as well as to conduct offset procurement totaling $5.3 billion, under the expectation that Israel will acquire a total of 50 F-35s. The JSF procurement is financed through the $3.1 billion annual military aid that the U.S. provides to Israel.

It is unclear, though, whether the U.S. will agree to provide Israel with the same terms for the smaller deal. "Minister Ya’alon will try to convince the Pentagon that this is a minor delay and that eventually Israel will procure the 50 aircraft," a senior defense source told Aviation Week.

Leading the surprising opposition to the F-35 deal was Minister for Intelligence Yuval Steinitz, who declared: "We are not rubber stamps for the [ministry of defense] and air force." In five different meetings of the panel on defense procurement dealing with the JSFs, Steinitz presented several articles published in Aviation Week from 2003 and 2008 raising doubts on the effectiveness of the F-35.

"For maintaining stealthiness, this aircraft has compromised maneuverability, shorter operational range and significantly less payload capability," a senior Israeli official told Aviation Week. "We shouldn’t be buying so many of them when it is unclear whether the stealth is effective, or there is a countermeasure that would negate it. There are vast gaps in performance between the F-35 and fourth-generation fighters."

The IAF and defense ministry have rejected Steinitz’s claims as "old and irrelevant." But Steinitz went on, calling for acquiring only the 19 F-35s already ordered and buying more F-15s and F-16s. He was joined by Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who claimed that the F-35 procurement would consume the whole of the U.S. military aid and would lead Israel to increase defense expenditures.

In response, the Israeli air force presented data that acquiring new F-16s or F-15s would cost even more than the F-35. That led the ministers to form a compromise resolution calling for the procurement of only 13 aircraft in addition to the first batch of 19.

Lockheed Martin has not received anything official on Israel’s next procurement. "It would be inappropriate to respond to a speculative story," spokesman Mike Rein says. "We stand ready to support Israel with whatever decision they make for a follow-on procurement of F-35s."

Israel’s first two F-35s are expected to be produced within the eighth batch of low-rate production aircraft and delivered in the second half of 2016. Deliveries of the first set of 19 JSFs is expected to be completed by 2018. Deliveries of the second batch of F-35s are expected to begin in 2019.