Here’s Everything We Know About The Alleged Israeli Air Force F-35 Air Strike on an Iranian Base in Iraq

An F-35I during Flight Course 174 Graduation Ceremony on Jun. 29, 2017. (Image credit: Celia Garion via IAF)

According to Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that cites anonymous western diplomats, the Israeli Adir was inolved in at least one air strike in Iraq. Here’s everything we know.

On July 19 and again on Jul. 28, the Israeli Air Force carried out air strikes on Iranian warehouses storing arms and missiles at Camp Ashraf, north-east of Baghdad, in Iraq. What is more, during the first raid, the base was struck by an F-35I Adir stealth jet. This is what Israeli media outlets are reporting after the London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat broke the news, citing Western diplomats, on Jul. 30.

Little details about the air strikes have been disclosed (none of those have been officially confirmed) so far. For sure the air strikes targeted a base deep inside the Iraqi airspace: some 80 km from the Iranian border. And this represents a sign that Israel has expanded the scope of its anti-Iranian operations in the region. Indeed, “Over the past year, an number of strikes targeting the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah in Syria were attributed to Israel,” Haaretz reported. But this is the first time the IAF strikes targets so close to the Iranian border.

Provided the F-35I Adir jets (most probably more than one but we can’t be sure) were really used in one or both the air strikes, it would also be interesting to understant the route they followed and, above all, the support they got: for instance, the distance between Nevatim Air Base and Camp Ashraf is in excess of 1,000 km: aerial refueling would probably be required for the jets, supposedly in “stealth mode” and without external fuel tanks, to reach their targets and safely return home.

It’s not the first time a foreign (Arabic) media outlet reports the involvement of the Adir in missions over Syria, Iraq or Iran.

Last year the news of an alleged Israeli F-35 mission over Iran spread through the social media. According to an “informed source” who talked to Kuwaiti Al-Jarida newspaper two Adir stealth jets flew undetected over Syria and Iraq and snuck into the Iranian airspace, flying reconnaissance missions over the Iranian cities Bandar Abbas, Esfahan and Shiraz.

This is what I wrote to debunk the claim:

There are many weird things:

First of all the source. Al-Jarida is often used to deliver Israeli propaganda/PSYOPS messages, according to several sources. For instance, here’s how Haaretz commented a previous scoop of the Kuwaiti outlet (again, highlight mine):

“Al-Jarida, which in recent years had broken exclusive stories from Israel, quoted a source in Jerusalem as saying that “there is an American-Israeli agreement” that Soleimani is a “threat to the two countries’ interests in the region.” It is generally assumed in the Arab world that the paper is used as an Israeli platform for conveying messages to other countries in the Middle East.

Then, the Israeli Air Force operates more than seven F-35s (at least 9) and their range (about 2,000 km) does not allow the aircraft in stealth mode (i.e. without external fuel tanks) to fly to Iran, twice, without stopover or aerial refueling.

[…]

And, above all, although the involvement of the F-35 in real missions has been considered “imminent” by some analysts since the Israeli Air Force declared its first F-35 “Adir” operational on Dec. 6, 2017, it’s highly unlikely such a mission, if real, would be leaked.

[…]

There have been a series of unconfirmed rumors that the F-35Is have been used to attack Syrian targets, but there is no confirmation that the jets have flown any combat missions yet. The mission over Iran seems to be just one of these: a bogus claim most probably spread on purpose as part of some sort of PSYOPS aimed at threatening Israel’s enemies.

The main difference today is that the Israeli F-35s have had their “baptism of fire” as officially confirmed by the IAF Chief on May 22, 2018.

Here’s what I’ve written last year, commenting the combat debut of the Adir (most of the commentary still applies to today’s news):

With no more details as to where and how the Adir were committed, it’s hard to make any further analysis. For sure, what can be said is that the IAF has proved once again its ability to pioneer combat testing of new aircraft. Although we don’t know the real stategic value of the missions undertaken by the 5th generation aircraft, it’s clear the Israeli have considered the sorties worth the risk. A risk that has become more real on Feb. 10, 2018, when one F-16I Sufa that had entered the Syrian airspace to strike Iranian targets in response to an Iranian drone that had violated the Israeli airspace (before being shot down by an AH-64 Apache helicopter) was targeted by the Syrian Air Defenses and crashed after a large long-range outdated SA-5 missile (one of 27 fired against the jets), hit the Israeli F-16. In that case, in spite the on board warning system of the F-16I alerted the crew of the incoming threat, the pilot and navigator failed to deploy countermeasures.

Although the IAF determined the loss of the Sufa was caused by a “professional error” many sources suggested that the first downing of an IAF jet to the enemy fire since the First Lebanon War could accelerate the commitment of the stealthy F-35Is for the subsequent missions.

What kind of missions? Hard to say. We can’t but speculate here but unless there was some really critical target to hit in a heavily defended airspace, the F-35s might have been initially involved as part of larger “packages” that included other special mission aircraft and EW (Electronic Warfare) support where the Adir jets would also (or mostly) exploit their ELINT abilities to detect, geolocate and classify enemy‘s systems. In fact, along with its Low Observability feature, the F-35 provides the decision makers high-end electronic intelligence gathering sensors combined with advanced sensor fusion capabilities to create a single integrated picture of the battlefield: in other words, not only can the F-35 conduct an air strike delivering bombs but it can also direct air strikes of other aircraft using standoff weapons. The F-35s are known to be able to carry out a dual role: “combat battlefield coordinators,” collecting, managing and distributing intelligence data while also acting as “kinetic attack platforms,” able to drop their ordnance on the targets and pass targeting data to older 4th Gen. aircraft via Link-16, if needed. More or less the same task considered for the USMC F-35B that have flown this kind of missions in exercises against high-end threats in 2016.

[…]

There have been a series of unconfirmed rumors that the F-35Is have been used to attack Syrian targets, but there is no confirmation that the jets have flown any combat missions yet. The mission over Iran seems to be just one of these: a bogus claim most probably spread on purpose as part of some sort of PSYOPS aimed at threatening Israel’s enemies.

So, the new reports seem to suggest the Israeli F-35s were used in combat for a long range strike not far from the Iranian border. We can’t say much but we can just highlight a couple of things:

  1. the target location would probably require aerial refueling (or external fuel tanks that we don’t know anything about) – even though stand-off weapons were used. The published combat radius of the F-35A is 590NM. The distance (straight line) between Nevatim and the target area is about 520NM. Considered that the route from departure to target is not straight but a path that takes into consideration civilian and military airports, airways, navaids, etc, as well as threats, it safe to say the aircraft, without AAR, with stand off weapons, would still operate at the edge of their combat radius. Possible but unlikely. An AAR (in friendly airspace) is more than likely.
  2. it’s not clear whether one or more F-35I Adir jets were involved
  3. based on the Arabic newspaper report, the type of involvement of the F-35 was probably “kinetic” (meaning that the aircraft dropped bombs) rather than “passive” (as an intelligence gathering platform).
  4. the participation of the F-35s in the air strikes has not been officially acknowledged.

Let’s wait and see if the F-35 participation in the strike is confirmed. Hopefully, more details will emerge in the following days.



About David Cenciotti 3842 Articles
David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.