Israel has used its F-35 fighter jets to carry out airstrikes in the region, Israeli Air Force commander Major General Amikam Norkin said, the first public acknowledgement of the plane’s operational use.
“The ‘Adir’ aircraft are already operational and flying combat missions. In fact, we have performed the first operational F-35 strike in the world. We attacked twice in the Middle East using the F-35 – we are the first in the world to do so,” Norkin said on Tuesday, May 22.
Israel took delivery of the first F-35I “Adir” variant in December 2016 and the fleet was declared operationally capable the following year. The IAF is expected to purchase a total of 50 of the aircraft.
Lockheed Martin said in 2016 that Israel plans to buy the planes at a cost of $110 million each. They are manufactured under an unprecedented confidentiality agreement to keep the design secret from Russia and China, according to Israeli media.
Speaking to air force commanders from 20 countries on Tuesday, Norkin said Israeli F-35s were “flying the F-35 all over the Middle East and have already attacked twice on two different fronts,” Reuters reported.
Norkin said the jets were used in two separate strikes, but not the May 10 IAF operation that took out dozens of Iranian targets in Syria.
Commenting on the most recent strike, Norkin said: “The Iranians fired 32 rockets, we intercepted 4 of them & the rest fell outside Israeli territory. In our response attack, more than 100 ground to air missiles were fired at our planes.”
The Israel Defense Forces has accused the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds special forces of launching that attack against Israeli targets in the Golan Heights.
“Over the past weeks, we understood that Iran was transporting long-range missiles and rockets to Syria, among which are ‘Uragan’ missile launchers which we attacked, just north of Damascus,” Norkin said.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said at the time that that Israel had struck “all of the Iranian infrastructure in Syria,” including five Syrian air defense systems.
Israel is believed to have carried out dozens of airstrikes on Hezbollah and Iranian targets in Syria since the civil war began in 2011, but rarely acknowledges the operations publicly. Israeli forces are also reported to have carried out strikes in Egypt’s Sinai region with the consent of the government.
In March, a Kuwaiti newspaper reported that IAF F-35 jets had overflown Iraq and Syria to enter Iranian airspace.
This story was updated on May 22 to include Norkin’s full comments as released by the Israeli Air Force.