On Saturday, Israel suffered its first loss of a fighter jet in contested airspace in 36 years, when an F-16I was shot down over Syria while conducting combat operations against Iranian assets within the region. The inciting incident, a violation of Israeli airspace by an Iranian drone, ended with Israeli forces downing the drone and mounting an offensive against Iranian targets believed responsible for its operation, but the downing the F-16I by Syrian anti-aircraft fire prompted a broader counter-strike involving eight fighters engaging 12 Syrian and Iranian targets, dealing a significant blow to Syria’s anti-aircraft infrastructure.
“Twelve targets were attacked, including three Syrian air defense batteries and four targets belonging to Iran that constitute part of Iranian entrenchment in Syria,” Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman, said Saturday.
But throughout the dramatic air campaign that transpired over the weekend, one question loomed: why didn’t Israel scramble their newly acquired, 5th generation fighters, the F-35I?
The dated anti-aircraft systems utilized by the Syrian and Iranian forces would certainly prove to be no match for the F-35s stealth capabilities, although Israeli forces were likely confident that their F-16s could manage them as they have repeatedly in the past. Nonetheless, with a far more advanced and capable combat platform parked quietly on the tarmac… why not put your best assets in the fight?