Israeli pilots have carried out the first operational airstrikes using the new U.S.-built F-35 stealth fighter according to Israeli Air Force General Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin.
The Israelis pounded Iranian bases and positions in Syria after the Iranian troops launched a slew of missiles at Israel from Syrian territory.
“The F-35 squadron has become an operational squadron. We are flying the F-35 all over the Middle East,” he said.
Norkin presented images of the F-35 over Beirut, Lebanon, and said that the stealth fighter did not participate in the most recent strike in Syria but did in two previous ones. He was speaking at a three-day conference organized by the IAF in Herzliya, to which senior officers from armies all over the world were invited.
The IAF commander also said that Iran fired 32 rockets at Israel during the flare-up across the Syrian border earlier this month. According to him, four rockets were intercepted by Israel and the rest landed outside of Israeli territory, and more than 100 surface-to-air missiles were fired at Israeli jets over Syria.
“After that [the Iranian attack] we attacked over 20 Iranian targets in Syria. Unfortunately, Syrian air defense systems fired over 100 antiaircraft missiles at our planes and in response we destroyed their antiaircraft batteries,” Norkin said.
IAF chief Norkin outlined the reasons behind Israel’s growing anxiety over Iranian activities in Syria. “The Quds Force established itself at T-4 base, 250 kilometers from Israel. From this base they tried to attack using a drone that entered into Israel, a few months ago. After this incident we realized that they were continuing to store weapons on this base, including air defense capabilities, which we attacked last month,” he explained at the conference.
“Over the past few weeks we learned that Iran had sent long-range missiles and rockets to Syria, including the Uragan launchers that we attacked north of Damascus,” added Norkin.
After months of tensions, Israel and Iran locked horns directly in Syria on May 11. At the time, Israel reported that Iranian forces had fired 20 rockets at IDF positions in the Golan Heights. Four of the rockets aimed at Israel were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system while the remaining rockets exploded on Syrian territory, the military said.
The Israelis are also looking to upgrade their refueling and helicopter fleets but as far as the F-35, the early usage looks to the outside as being a successful investment.
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