The IAF is the first foreign air force outside of the U.S. to receive the new stealth plane, even before any of America’s NATO partners.
This gesture demonstrates the close relationship between the U.S. and the state of Israel, and the trust the American defense community has regarding the IAF and Israel as a strategic defense partner.
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That operation was one of the most spectacular implementations of air power not just in the history of the IAF, but of air power in general.
Integrating such a complicated aircraft system as the F-35 at such an early stage of its evaluation requires a very slow and cautious process during which the real potential of the aircraft will be better understood.
The IAF’s challenge is to utilize the F-35 in how it shapes, plans and conducts its future campaigns.
Regretfully, we have not yet achieved peace in our region, and as the F-35 becomes operational the local refinements and the lessons learned will of course be shared with our partners in Washington.
The historic shift from the strategic and operational context in which the Israel Defense Forces worked in 1967 to that aspect in which the F-35 will operate in the future is worth examining.
In basic terms, air power has a unique capability to carry out an operation in which many targets are being attacked simultaneously, thus creating a strategic or operational effect that can be exploited during a campaign.
This operation can be launched as a “preemptive” first strike, or as a “preventive strike.”
A “preemptive strike” will be executed when the possibility of war is certain, so the objective of the strike is to create better opening conditions for a war.
A “preventive strike” is needed when the possibility to go to war is already high and the objective is to create deterrence, stop the escalation and prevent a war.
The success of the “preventive strike” depends obviously on how it is measured by the rival and whether he is deterred.
In 1967, it is known that the successful “preemptive strike” created ultimate conditions for achieving victory on the ground.
Less known is that in the discussions preceding the war a “preventive strike” to try and achieve the strategic objectives was not seriously deliberated.
In the 1960s, strategy at the time was that wars were decided on the ground by the land force, while air power was just a complementary element.
It wasn’t a surprise when then-IAF commander General Moti Hod said that in the discussions before the war he didn’t care so much about the army’s plans, and at the same time the IDF land commanders did not know the air force’s plans.
The IAF was asked to launch a “first strike” that would create the best conditions for the next decisive phase, the ground operation.
In the years after that war, the centrality of air power gradually increased.
Impressive technological advancements such as precision-guided munitions, extended flight range and the beginning of stealth capability that were successfully used in wars like Operation Desert Storm in Iraq (1991) and Operation Allied Force in Kosovo (1999) caused theorists and practitioners to conclude that wars could be decided by air power alone.
The F-35 brings revolutionary capabilities in a period when both the IDF and the IAF have a very balanced and realistic understanding that despite the theories of the centrality of air power, decisiveness in conflicts will be achieved through joint efforts in which every element contributes its ultimate share according to the context.
The landing of the first F-35 in Israel was not just America delivering goods to another U.S. ally.
“There's no better symbol of the U.S. commitment to Israel's security than the F-35, the most capable aircraft in the skies,” said Carter.
As America’s defense chief, Carter understands the reality that in a turbulent Middle East Israel needs the most advanced military capabilities, not only to ensure its safely but also to deter its enemies and prevent the next war.
Brig. Gen (res) Ephraim Segoli, a 25-year veteran of the Israel Air Force, is head of the Airpower Strategic Studies Research Center in the Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies near Tel Aviv.