Israeli F-35s are never seen in combat, but on Monday they seemed to have been captured by a Lebanese photographer patrolling the skies over Lebanon.
Ali Shaib, a photographer for Hezbollah-owned TV station Al Manar, tweeted photos of the advanced fifth-generation aircraft flying over Lebanon. While the planes could not immediately be identified as belonging to the Israeli Air Force, Israel does routinely fly over Lebanon as part of its ongoing efforts to collect intelligence on Hezbollah activities.
Shaib mistakenly identified the planes as F-15 fighter jets but an examination of the photos clearly showed that they were F-35s, the most advanced fighter jet in IAF use. He wrote that he had counted six fighter jets.
Built by Lockheed Martin, the jets have an extremely low radar signature, making them stealth like and allowing them to operate undetected deep inside enemy territory, as well as evade advanced missile defense systems like the S-300 and S-400, which have been deployed in countries such as Syria.
The IAF currently has about 30 active F-35i Adir aircraft out of a total of 50 planes set to land in the coming years, to make two full squadrons by 2024.
The IAF announced in August that as part of changes to make the force more efficient and better able to contend with regional threats, a third F-35i Adir squadron will open next year.
In 2018, IAF commander Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin revealed that F-35s were being used in operations to attack enemy targets. Norkin also displayed a photograph of an Israeli F-35 flying over Beirut.
“We are flying the F-35 all over the Middle East. It has become part of our operational capabilities. We are the first to attack using the F-35 in the Middle East and have already attacked twice on different fronts,” he said at the time.