Earlier this week, Israel Air Force (IAF) commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin told an audience at a security conference held in Herzliya that Israel is the first country in the world to carry out an "operational attack" with the F-35.
As part of his presentation, Norkin showed images of the F-35 over Beirut, Lebanon. According to the general, the stealth fighter did not participate in the most recent strike in Syria but did in two previous ones. Israel Defense Forces, primarily via its air force, has continued to operate against Iranian forces in Syria since the large-scale Israeli strike in Syria on May 9th. According to Norkin, while Israeli “actions have been taken since the recent events,” Israel’s main goal is to “maintain freedom of action in the region [...] disrupt and prevent [possible attacks] while keeping the situation below the threshold of war.”
Norkin concluded: “We are continuing with our operational mission against the arming of Hezbollah and Iranian moves to establish themselves in Syria. As far as we are concerned, anywhere we identify consolidation [of Iranian forces] or the introduction of weapons, we act.”
What makes this revelation important at a global level is it demonstrates the stealth capabilities of the F-35 in overcoming air defense, as Israel has been able to fly over enemy countries undetected. This has big implications regarding Israel and America’s capabilities in overcoming air defenses in Syria - or other places where there is a risk of confronting advanced Russian SAM batteries.
Israeli conflicts have long been a proving ground for American armaments in large-scale conflicts. This trend has had the added benefit of testing the effectiveness of these systems against Russian manufactured weapons. Russian tanks operated by Egyptians clashed with American Shermans, modified by Israeli engineers during the Six Day War. Russian MiGs faced off against the American model F-16 for the first time in a Syria vs. Israel dogfight back in 1981.
The latest stage in this decades-long pattern has been Israel’s recent operations against Syria, who is armed with Russian aerial defense systems, although not the most advanced versions.
In any case, the recent announcements by the IAF, if they are to be believed, are a strong indication of the strength of the Lockheed produced fighter. No doubt the operational experience and knowledge gleaned from Israel’s operations - the ones we know about and the ones we don’t - will be invaluable for the Americans in assessing the capabilities of their own fighters.