JERUSALEM (AP) — The head of Israel’s air force on Tuesday revealed that it used the next-generation F-35 fighter jet for the first time during a recent mission.
Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin told a conference that he believes it was the first time the fighter has been used in the Middle East, and that the air force is just beginning to understand the “huge potential” of the aircraft.
In a brief video clip released by the army, Norkin points to what he says is a picture of the plane “over Beirut.” He did not say when the mission occurred, but Syria and Iran have accused Israel of carrying out a number of airstrikes recently in Syria.
On May 10, Israel acknowledged striking a series of Iranian targets in Syria in response to an Iranian rocket attack launched from the neighboring country.
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Israel has repeatedly said it will not allow Iran, its archenemy, to establish a permanent military presence in Syria. It fears that Iran and its Shiite proxies, including the Lebanese group Hezbollah, will use Syrian territory to launch attacks against Israel.
Israel’s Channel 10 TV said the F-35 jets have recently been deployed in two unspecified operations. Their use remained secret until Tuesday’s announcement, the station said.
Norkin’s comments can be seen as a show of force from Israel’s air force, sending a message of deterrence to Iran and Hezbollah, according to Channel 10’s military analyst, Alon Ben David.
Israel was one of the first countries to acquire the U.S.-made warplane, in 2016. The F-35 fighter jet’s advanced stealth technology allows it to evade even sophisticated anti-aircraft systems, according to weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin.