JERUSALEM, Israel – Israel is the first country worldwide to carry out airstrikes with the F-35 stealth fighter jet, Israel Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin told participants at a three-day conference in Herzliya marking the IAF's 70th Anniversary.
Air force commanders and deputy commanders from allied countries around the world are attending the conference in Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv.
Israel Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin addresses the conference, Photo, IAF
The American-manufactured aircraft are now part of the IAF's operational capabilities throughout the Middle East, Norkin said, noting that they've been used twice on two separate fronts.
"We are flying the F-35 all over the Middle East. It has become part of our operational capabilities," he said. "We are the first to attack using the F-35 in the Middle East and have already attacked twice on different fronts."
On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told conference participants the Israel Air Force "plays a crucial role" in implementing US policy "to roll back Iranian aggression."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at international conference of air force commanders, Photo, GPO, Kobi Gideon
"Israel deeply appreciates the strong leadership of President Trump and Secretary (Mike) Pompeo's 12-point plan to block Iran's aggression, and I can tell you with confidence that the appreciation that I just expressed is shared, broadly shared, by many others in the Middle East," Netanyahu said.
"This is not just an Israeli position. I hope that this clear American message was well understood in Tehran. And like the US, we in Israel have no quarrel with the people of Iran. But we are determined to roll back Iran's aggression. We will not let Iran establish military bases in Syria and we will not let Iran develop nuclear weapons. The Israeli Air Force plays a crucial role in implementing this policy and it has done so consistently and effectively now for the past several years."
The IAF received the first F-35s in December 2016, declaring them operational this past December. To date about eight of the 50 aircraft, which will eventually make up two full squadrons, have been delivered, with the remainder expected by 2024. The aircraft are part of a military aid deal between Israel and the United States.
One of the outstanding features of the Adir F-35I is its ability to operate undetected deep inside enemy territory, the Jerusalem Post reported. The stealth fighter can evade state-of-the-art missile defense systems, including the Russian-manufactured S-300 and S-400 systems.
The Post quoted Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson saying the F-35s will play a key role in offsetting Iranian efforts to arm its Lebanese-based proxy, Hezbollah.
"With C41 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," Hewson said.
Lockheed Martin International Executive Vice President Rick Edwards said, "We aren't building this aircraft for a fair fight, but to give our customer a decisive advantage. Edwards reportedly said he wasn't "at all surprised" to hear that Israel was the first country to carry out an operational strike with the F-35 Adir.
While the Adir F-351 was not used in the recent conflagration against Iranian military sites in Syria, Norkin corrected misreported information.
Iranian Quds forces fired 32 – not 20 – rockets at Israel, he said, and Syrian aerial defense systems launched more than 100 surface-to-air missiles at IAF squadrons retaliating for the rocket barrages. Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile batteries destroyed four of the rockets and the rest exploded inside Syria, he said. Israeli pilots successfully destroyed not less than four Syrian anti-aircraft systems.
Norkin attributed the 85 percent interception rate against rocket and missile attacks to Israel's multi-layered missile defense system – the Iron Dome (short range), David's Sling (medium range), and the Arrow (long range).
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