Flames erupted from their engines, and, unlike the roaring crescendo, their tones went from warm to cold until they reached a shade between blue and violet. The rumbling roar could be heard hundreds of meters away as the vibration shook the ground.

Israeli elite F-35 Adir fighters took off one by one from the Nevatim airbase in Beersheba. They started with a small bend to the right, then suddenly burst forward, cutting deep to the right and rising up a steep slope.

The magazine, several IDF officers, and another media source turned our attention to the American F-15s preparing to take off after the first group of six planes (and nearly went deaf the one time we took too long to protect our ears). All the F-35s had taken off within 30-90 seconds of each other.

Lt. Col. M., commander of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) 140th F-35 Squadron, told the magazine that the entire squadron could take off in less than 10 minutes during the test and even less time in a real operating situation.

However, the four American F-15s seemed to take off faster even during practice, doing so in less than 30 seconds and almost simultaneously. A Gulfstream G-500/G-550 was also part of the intelligence gathering (Nachshon) training.

Visible both up close and from a distance, the gray F-35s sported a red eagle emblem and several phrases emblazoned in huge letters on the plane. 

These alerts are intended to remind pilots and crews of important safety procedures, such as what to remove from the cockpit and canopy before takeoff and how to use the various locks properly.

Don’t let its size fool you.

F-35s dwarf next to the world’s most advanced fighter jets. According to IDF Captain I, the Israeli commander charged with overseeing combined Israeli-American training. The F-35s are designed to be smaller and carry fewer weapons. This allows them to have a significantly lower radar signature and carry out their stealth assault capabilities.

M declined to provide specific targets but stated that “the Air Force would be ready for any operation,” implying that the IDF has novel approaches to long-haul flights.

Experts have speculated that the IDF would land in moderate Sunni areas of the Gulf to refuel or use its aging Boeing 707s for in-flight refueling. If there were to be an attack in the future or with US refueling help, Israel could use the US refueling plane or its own brand-new KC-46 refueling plane, which it will end up getting from Boeing.

M was questioned about his action plan in the face of an anti-aircraft missile attack and whether his strategy would change depending on whether he had to dodge one missile or twenty, thirty, or more.

Although he said that “we protect aircraft based on various air defense conditions,” he was cautious in giving details.

According to outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, Israeli Air Force pilots bombing Syria in recent years have faced 30 to 40 surface-to-air missiles, and even up to 70 such missiles, without missing a single plane.

When Kohavi’s recent claim that they had 70 anti-aircraft missiles came up, M replied: “We know how to handle” any eventuality.

Experts have pointed out that Israeli jets can fire long-range missiles in distant Iran locations and then quickly return home, evading Iranian defenses as far as possible.

M bristled when told that the IDF’s success rate in Syria against ground targets was 90%, while the success rate against air targets was 80%, even though the latter may be more agile in three dimensions. Air-raid drones and ground soldiers present “different problems,” she said.

He did not mention the various challenges that have arisen. Unlike air targets, however, ground targets can be dangerously close to potentially innocent civilians.

Although M declined to detail his travels, his detailed flight log showed that he had participated in missions that had hit targets in Syria. Defense Minister Benny Gantz recently warned Air Force graduates to be prepared to attack Iran in the next two to three years.

Since then, Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, new IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi, new Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and outgoing chief Kohavi, have warned Iran sternly about its program. Nuclear power and its support for regional terrorism.

The journalists had the opportunity to look at the training carried out to attack targets in “deep” enemy territory, a term often used to describe Iran and other countries that do not share a border with Israel.

No one can deny that having the United States on your side is a great help. If an authorized foreign assault were to take place, “any help from the United States can be useful,” says M, but “we don’t need them or anyone else” if Israel is forced to respond while other allies choose to remain neutral.

In late January, the United States and Israel conducted “Juniper Oaks,” which was described as their largest joint exercise to date.

F-35 Adir
CENTCOM Commander Michael Kurilla and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi visit Nevatim Airbase in southern Israel in November 2022. Aviv Kohavi visits Nevatim Airbase in southern Israel, on November 15, 2022.

Iran has been explicitly or indirectly warned by CENTCOM, the IDF, and unnamed US officials that the US and Israel may project and use force anywhere in the Middle East.

At some point, Israel may feel compelled to launch a preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, and the F-35 could be the first attack aircraft used in this operation. According to Israeli experts, Iran’s much-vaunted S-300 anti-aircraft missile system would be rendered useless if surprised by such stealthy capabilities.

M emphasized the F-35’s better stealth capabilities, saying it had faced danger on several missions during its career, but did not specify which ones.

In 2016, when Israel debuted its new F-35s, Steve Over, director of F-35 International Business Development at Lockheed Martin, said publicly that the F-35 fighter was designed to deal with sophisticated threats such as the one posed by the S-300, made in Russia.

A day after Moscow lifted its ban on selling the air defense system to Iran, he told reporters that countries like Russia and China “have the ability to give advanced air defenses and aircraft and would sell to any government with the money to buy them.”

But, he went on to say that the F-35 “has the capability” to fight sophisticated air and surface threats.

Israel’s F-35s managed to fool Syria’s air defenses.

F-35 Adir
Israeli F-35 fighter seen in the sky over Lebanon

In the time period between October 2018 and October 2022, Israeli Air Force F-35s were said to have successfully outwitted the Syrian S-300 anti-aircraft missile system. Kohavi told the Magazine in January that Israel carried out strikes in Syria an average of three times each week.

Israel has suffered multiple airstrikes, including what appear to be F-15 and F-16 fighter jets, but has only lost one F-16 so far in 2018 and none of its F-35s. This gives some confidence to the Israeli capital, which could take similar measures against Iran if necessary.

Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon revealed on January 21 that the Israeli government has officially requested 25 F-15 EX fighter jets from Boeing and the United States. In the not-too-distant future, Jerusalem will likely make many unreasonable demands.

Boeing claims that the F-15 EX can carry more weapons than any other fighter jet in its class and can launch hypersonic missiles weighing up to 7,000 pounds. But, invading Iran presents significant challenges.

Israeli strategy to attack Iran

In the event of an attack, Israel’s F-35 fighters, approaching from various directions, could fire the first salvo. Although F-35s leave a small radar footprint, many planes in the air at once could set off alarm bells.

As the de facto leaders of the Abraham Accords, the Saudis might be willing to allow these planes to fly through their territory if they travel 1,200 to 1,350 kilometers. They could potentially cut travel time in half by taking the shortest route through Syria and Turkey to Iraq.

No aircraft are allowed to enter Iraq. Still, Baghdad has a weak air force and, while not particularly friendly to Israel, hasn’t been openly hostile to the Jewish state since Saddam Hussein was ousted in 2003.

Their target would be Iran’s extensive air defense network, which includes cutting-edge systems such as the S-300 and older, less sophisticated but no less lethal weaponry. In addition to destroying any Iranian aircraft in the air, they would also take out those on the ground to provide “clear skies” for subsequent waves of aircraft. 

The Iranian Air Force is getting old, so upgrading to the S-300 is a top priority. Several people doubt that their planes are even close to being combat-ready due to a lack of maintenance.

F-35 Adir
Fighters from the IAF’s second F-35 squadron, the Southern Lions, fly over southern Israel.

Depending on the current stock of F-35s in Israel, it might even be possible to allocate only a subset of the fleet to this first round and preserve the rest for the second. Israel could launch attacks against selected nuclear facilities as part of the first wave.

Israel is also believed to be preparing to deploy a fleet of drones, in addition to F-35s, to crash into or fire missiles at various anti-aircraft missile positions and nuclear facilities.

According to Iranian and foreign reports, Israel launched drone strikes on Iran’s Isfahan reactor on January 29 and on the Karaj nuclear complex in June 2021.

This would allow an initial attack to be more powerful without endangering as many Israeli pilots until it was clear that the skies were clear of most dangers to Israeli aircraft.

Determining how many F-35s and drones to send and how many defensive sites and vital nuclear targets to hit would require carefully weighing the risks to Israeli pilots and maximizing the factor of surprise.

Israel will need bunker-busting missiles.

The most difficult aspect of dismantling Iran’s nuclear facilities would be removing the Fordow deep underground site and perhaps the new deep underground complex that the Islamic Republic has been creating at Natanz since 2021.

The Trump administration has continued Obama’s policy of not giving Israel “bunker buster” weapons designed to attack underground bunkers.

Former CIA director Michael Hayden had previously told the magazine that the US and Israel should dispose of these weapons to prevent Iran from thinking it can safely build nuclear facilities by burying them.

A test fleet F-35B fires an ASRAAM from the outer pylon in 2017. Lockheed Martin

The fact that no Israeli aircraft can currently support the weight of a large bunker-buster bomb is an added problem.

However, many current and former senior IDF commanders and other intelligence officers have assured the Magazine that Israel can destroy such underground sites. As? This is off-limits, so they won’t say anything.

However, senior US officials have warned that repeated shelling could cause a cave-in, block access, or render any Iranian underground complex inaccessible.

Iran may have carried out or continue to carry out nuclear weapons tests at places such as the Parchin and Arak heavy water reactor, the Isfahan uranium conversion facility, the Bonab and Ramsar research reactors, and the Tehran. According to Iran, Isfahan was attacked by the Israeli Mossad on January 29.

M declined to say when the 11 Israeli F-35 jets, which were withdrawn from training flights on December 25 while a probable problem in similar US aircraft was investigated, would return to full service. The conclusion was that determining the seriousness of the probable failure could be a long and difficult process. 

However, M clarified that Israel’s three remaining F-35 squadrons (normal squadron sizes range from 10 to 25 aircraft) and other combat aircraft could execute any mission assigned to them. Following his conversation with M, Lockheed Martin’s business partners hinted that a fix for US F-35s could come as soon as this month, with similar efforts underway in Israel.

According to other sources contacted by the magazine, it may take some time to evaluate those F-35s for training purposes, but the IDF could continue to use them as such, although without incurring those risks.

F-35s are used for training by both Israeli and American pilots

Captain, I reflected on the results of the combined drill and emphasized the need to use various strategies to communicate effectively in different languages. When he granted the interview to the magazine, the procedure had already been underway for a few days.

He claimed that a deeper understanding of the others and their individual flying techniques had been achieved in just a few days.

The Israeli pilots may be able to teach the American pilots a thing or two about operational maneuvers and tactics and get to flying in different formations due to the greater frequency with which they are called into conflict.

Since the United States is the older and more experienced brother, any misunderstandings will likely be resolved in favor of the US Air Force’s demands since the vast majority of Israeli pilots have already acquired a high level of instruction in English.

In a strange turn of events, M and I came to the same conclusion: American and Israeli pilots learned as much about each other during their time off commiserating on the ground as they did during their flights together.

According to M, he was one of the first Israeli pilots to learn to fly an F-35 in the United States, spending five months at a US facility in 2016, when the planes first became available in the country.

American pilots, he said, like Israeli food and are surprised by the sudden changes from green fields to mountains to deserts in such a small nation.

M agreed that it was a sensible move for Israel to work with CENTCOM, the US Army’s soldiers in the Middle East, rather than EUROCOM, the US Army’s European troops. He also noted that this allowed for closer coordination between US and Israeli soldiers.

Despite M’s insistence that “there is no operational collaboration yet,” he conceded that the Abraham Accords had facilitated greater regional cooperation and further isolated Iran (unlike the US, where there is already operational cooperation).

To “learn more detailed tactics,” M said smaller drills would benefit both his and American pilots. In contrast, in a larger exercise, the focus is on the overall impression of greater integration of diverse forces rather than individual unit coordination.

The Israeli Defense Forces have a stellar reputation for dedication to the job. One of the pilots broke his arm in the crash but still attended training while on the ground.

Everyone could see that M was the undisputed leader. He treated the base, where the jet was parked like it was the backyard he’d enjoyed for most of his life.

M is the type of captain the Jewish state would want at the helm, directing its most vital and risky missions into the unknown. M is an imposing man who radiates the swagger and unflappable confidence that pilots are known for.