TEL AVIV – Israel received two more F-35 stealth fighter jets on Sunday, the army said, bringing the total possessed by the Israeli Air Force to 16.
The first two F-35s arrived at the end of 2016 and were declared operational a year later. The air force later showcased the first operational flights and said the F-35s had already conducted strikes, making Israel the first country to use the planes in combat.
“The capabilities of the Adir Squadron [Israel’s name for the F-35] add another tier to the operational and strategic capabilities of the air force, which ensures the air force’s superiority in all its missions, namely the protection and safety of the State of Israel’s skies,” the military said in a statement.
Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to threats made by Iranian officials by saying that Israel’s F-35 fighter jets can reach “anywhere in the Middle East.”
“Lately, Iran has been threatening Israel with destruction,” Netanyahu said. “It should remember that these planes can reach every place in the Middle East, including Iran, and of course also Syria.”
Last month, the air force used F-35s for the first time in a large-scale drill simulating multi-front combat action.
“We are training at very high intensity with a challenging, thinking enemy that possesses technology beyond what currently exists in the arena,” a senior air force official said.
According to the official, the F-35s provided a level of “lethality and multi-role capabilities.”
“We did not have these capabilities before,” he said.
The exercise simulated simultaneous fighting in the Gaza Strip, Syria and Lebanon, with Israel sustaining “thousands” of hits at the same time, a senior officer said.
The scenarios involved combating enemies equipped with sophisticated weaponry such as the Russian-made S-300 and S-400 air defense systems.
Israel is contractually bound to purchase 50 F-35 jets from the U.S. company Lockheed Martin, to be delivered in pairs or threes until 2024 to make two full squadrons. Israel is one of the few countries permitted to modify the jets, which cost around $100 million apiece.
“The ongoing procurement of the Adir is another expression of the long-term military cooperation between Israel and the U.S., which continues to produce exceptional results in the process of strengthening and streamlining [the F-35],” the army said in its statement.