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Israel’s ‘Special’ F-35 Stealth Fighters Have Put Iran on Notice

Israel moved to import Lockheed Martin’s fifth-generation stealth fighter in the early 2010s, but with a special arrangement: the first nineteen imported units would be standard F-35A models, but the following thirty-one will be specially modified by Israeli defense firms to better fit the IAF’s mission parameters.

Israel’s conventional and specially modified F-35 fleet is poised to greatly enhance Jerusalem’s ability to project power in the region, as it strives to hold on to the mantle of the best Air Force in the Middle East into the coming decades.

 

Israel’s F-35I Adir fighters have taken part in drills in Italy, marking their first foreign outing. Six of the jets departed on Thursday to participate in the Falcon Strike 2021 exercises. Accompanying the F-35’s are16A/Bs from the Israeli Defense Forces’ (IAF) 116th Squadron, G550 Airborne early warning and control planes, and support units, for a total of around thirty Israeli aircraft.

The U.S., Britain, and Italy have sent their fighters to participate in Falcon Strike 2021; all three have dispatched F-35B short take-off/vertical landing (STOVL) variants, with Italy also sending F-35A conventional takeoff fighters. The Israeli Air Force’s (IAF) F-35 squadron is scheduled to take part in two sorties each day through June 17, including simulated air strikes behind enemy lines, ground support missions, and mock dogfights.

Nominally, the IAF joined Falcon Strike 2021 to hone joint operations capabilities with allies and to train aircraft maneuvers in an unfamiliar setting. But an IAF officer reportedly admitted off the record that there is a more immediate purpose to these exercises: “Iran is in our focus,” he said tersely. Tensions between Israel and Iran have spiked in recent months, with Tehran “cheering” on — and reportedly arming — Hamas in the recent resurgence of the Gaza conflict, shortly on the heels of allegations that Israel carried out strikes against Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility.

Israel moved to import Lockheed Martin’s fifth-generation stealth fighter in the early 2010s, but with a special arrangement: the first nineteen imported units would be standard F-35A models, but the following thirty-one will be specially modified by Israeli defense firms to better fit the IAF’s mission parameters. This compromise helped to allay the fears of Israeli Defense contractors that the massive export contract is leaving local industry out of the equation.