According to a French journalist, Israel’s newly received F-35A Adir stealth fighters have already seen combat. Reportedly, a first air strike was flown against targets in Syria in January – less than a month after the jets first touched down in Israel.
Georges Malbrunot, who writes for French newspaper Le Figaro, cited French intelligence sources. He posted on Twitter today that examples of the Israeli F-35 – two of which have been delivered to the country to date – took part in a raid over Syrian territory on the night of January 12-13. The mission saw them strike objectives around the capital, Damascus.
According to Malbrunot, the F-35s targeted warehouses containing Russian-made Pantsir-S1 mobile surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems that Israel feared could be delivered from Syria to Hezbollah forces operating in Lebanon. The warehouse was located at Mezzeh, a military airfield in Damascus.
During the same attack, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) also reportedly destroyed an S-300 SAM battery deployed near the Syrian presidential palace, on Mount Qassioun. According to the same unnamed French intelligence source quoted by Malbrunot, the F-35 aircraft finally overflew the palace of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, before returning to Israel.
Malbrunot provided a final quote from an unnamed soldier, explaining that: ‘With the Pantsir, Hezbollah ensures that the Israeli Air Force is almost totally unable to operate over Lebanon.’
Providing the account is true, it seems unlikely that Israel would admit the use of F-35s at this stage. However, in the past the IAF has been quick to put new assets into combat if required for specific missions – and the continued effort to prevent advanced weapons landing in Hezbollah hands may fit that remit.
Certainly, there was an air strike against Mezzeh airfield on the date specified. At the time, Syrian authorities put the blame for the attack on the Israel Defense Forces.
The first two F-35 Adirs for the IAF arrived at Nevatim air base on December 12 last year. The first two aircraft — AS-1 (serial 901) and AS-2 (serial 902) — received their Star of David national markings in an official ceremony after landing. The aircraft will equip 140 ‘Golden Eagle’ Squadron, previously an F-16A/B operator.
The first F-35, AS-1, performed a maiden flight at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas, on July 25, 2016. The second jet, AS-2, followed it into the air on August 8.
The two F-35s flew to Nevatim via Lajes in the Azores and Cameri in Italy, but their arrival in Israel was delayed by around 24 hours due to heavy fog in Italy and the need to recognise American safety protocols.
To date, Israel has ordered 50 F-35A conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) aircraft via the US government’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) channels. The first 19 F-35s were ordered in 2010, at a cost of $2.7 billion. This includes the first two F-35s that are part of the eighth batch of low-rate initial production aircraft. Delivery of the first 19 aircraft is due to be completed by the end of 2018.
In November 2014 Israel authorised the purchase of another 14 F-35s, to which were added 17 options, in a deal valued at around $2.8 billion. The 14 aircraft in the second batch include a single test example and 13 intended to populate a second front-line squadron. Deliveries of the second batch of aircraft will take place between 2019 and 2021.
With a view to acquiring the full 50 aircraft required to field its first two 24-aircraft Adir squadrons, Israel approved the purchase of its 17 options in November 2016. This deal is likely to cost over $2.5 billion.
Beyond the 50 F-35s currently contracted, the US administration has approved Israel’s purchase of as many as 75 F-35s.