Was it a missile, was it a plane? Israel says it was birds that grounded its F-35 worth $96 million.
Rabat – Israel had to issue an embarrassing statement after reports that a Soviet-era missile battery hit its most advanced jet fighter, the F-35. Israel’s most cherished piece of military equipment suffered irreparable damage as Israel attempted to intimidate Russia.
The F-35 is the most advanced US-built stealth fighter on the market today, and Israel’s pride and joy. Israel is employing its army of lobbyists in Washington, D.C. to prevent its new “allies” from purchasing the F-35 as it fears it will lose its military advantage in the region, something the US has promised to maintain.
The much-hyped jet has been at the center of geopolitical tensions in the region. But an embarrassing saga, kept quiet since 2017, is raising questions about the aircraft that costs $96 million per plane, according to former Israeli Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
On October 16, 2017, Israel planned a power play to send a message to Russia while the Russian federation’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited Tel Aviv. As Shoigu met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s air force ordered one of its brand-new F-35 fighters jets to bomb Syria.
The message was simple: Whatever Shoigu and Netanyahu might discuss, Israel would continue to reserve the right to bomb its neighbors with impunity. Striking Russia’s close ally Syria on the same day as the meeting aimed to project Israeli military strength and diplomatic immunity.
Israel’s F-35 attacked two Syrian air defense batteries, alleged retaliation for Syrian firing at Israeli spy planes flying over Syria. Israel presented the operation as an unmitigated success. Yet as time passed and more details became clear, the embarrassing truth became apparent. During the operation, Israel’s $80 million F-35 returned damaged beyond repair.
The mission cost Israel one of the nine F-35 fighters it had at the time, a painful price for destroying two of Syria’s cheap Soviet-era surface-to-air (SAM) batteries.
The embarrassing story behind Israel’s damaged F-35 has become a point of discussion after South Front, a news site focused on Russia’s military in Syria, made a remarkable claim. The publication alleged that Israel’s F-35 plane was hit by a Russian SAM battery.
Countries that participated in the development of the F-35 have long feared Russia’s state-of-the-art S-400 missile systems for its alleged capabilities to “learn” the F-35’s stealth tricks and take down the fighter. Yet on October 16, a missile from a Syrian Soviet-era S-200 hit the most advanced military jet in the US and Israel’s arsenal, according to South Front.
Following the Israeli operation on October 16, the Syrian defense ministry released a statement announcing that it had “directly hit one of the jets, forcing [Israeli aircraft] to retreat.” If Syria’s assertion is correct, a SAM battery developed in the 1960s would have hit the latest piece of US military tech that has cost the US an eye-watering $1.5 trillion to develop.
If an outdated cold-war era Syrian missile battery did indeed target and hit Israel’s F-35, it could break the near-mythical reputation of the US and Israel’s famous new jet.
Israel’s foreign ministry had to rapidly do damage control following the claims by South Front and Syria’s defense ministry.
Its response attempts to dispel the rumor of a Soviet-era SAM battery taking down Israel’s flagship F-35 plane. Yet the Israeli explanation is possibly more embarrassing than even the claims made.
Israel claims it was not a Soviet-era missile that took down its F-35; instead, it says a “bird strike” two weeks prior took down its expensive military kit. A “bird strike” is a common threat to aviation and refers simply to a plane hitting birds in its flight path.
Whether it was indeed birds or an outdated Russian missile that damaged Israel’s F-35, the embarrassing story calls into question the durability of the country’s most prized military. Israel has committed to spending billions to expand its fleet of F-35 jets to 50 units while the US uses the plane as bait for Gulf countries to consider normalization agreements with Israel.
Whether it was a bird or a missile that took down Israel’s F-35, the tale is likely to lift some of the myth around the F-35, and possibly impact sales of the US jet that it envisions will be the anchor of its military capabilities for years to come.