Last week’s news that Israel has flown operational missions with its F-35A "Adir" stealth fighters over Syria and Lebanon has been followed by media reports that Russia has agreed not to use its Syria-based air defense systems to engage Israeli warplanes that attack Iranian targets in Syria. In recent weeks, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) has attacked long-range missiles and rockets that Iran has placed in Syria to fire on Israeli territory. Two of these missions were flown by F-35s, according to IAF commander Maj Gen Amikam Norkin.
Norkin was speaking at a convention of international air force chiefs invited to Tel Aviv to mark the IAF’s 70th anniversary. “We performed the F-35’s first-ever operational strike,” he told them. The IAF’s first F-35 squadron achieved initial operating capability last December, one year after the first aircraft were delivered.
According to Norkin, Syria has fired more than 100 Russian-supplied SA-5, SA-17, and SA-22 SAMs at IAF aircraft. “In response, we destroyed their SAM batteries,” he added. But the F-35s, and other Israeli combat jets, have apparently not been threatened by the S-300/350/400 SAM systems that Russian has deployed to Syria. Russian president Vladimir Putin is believed to have promised non-intervention during talks in Moscow with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this month.
According to The Jerusalem Post, Lockheed Martin chairman, president and CEO Marilyn Hewson told the convention in Tel Aviv that the F-35s, working alongside the IDF’s ground forces and navy, have been “critical” in offsetting the arming of Hezbollah in Lebanon.
“With C4I technology integrated into the Adir, the F-35 is particularly critical to countering Hezbollah’s vast rocket threat through rapid identification and prioritization of targets for the IAF,” she said, adding that the jets “can fly in what we call ‘beast mode,’ carrying up to 18,000 pounds of internal and external ordnance, in a mix that can include 5,000-pound-class weapons.”