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Israeli TV airs apparently leaked photo of F-35 flying over Beirut

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A photograph of an Israeli F-35 stealth fighter jet flying over the Lebanese capital of Beirut was aired on Hadashot television news Wednesday night, after it was apparently leaked to the network.

The picture was reportedly shown by Israeli Air Force chief Amikam Norkin on Tuesday at a conference for visiting commanders and deputy commanders of over 20 foreign air forces, as he revealed that Israel had used the American-made F-35 in at least two attack missions, making it the first country in the world to use the aircraft operationally.

The Israel Defense Forces denied providing Hadashot news with the image and said it had not meant for the photograph to be shown outside the conference.

Over 100 people attended Norkin’s speech. A photograph from the event, which was distributed by the IDF, appeared to show some audience members holding cellphones. At least two military photographers were also at the event.

Israeli Air Force chief Amikam Norkin speaks to a crowd of visiting air force chiefs from around the world during a conference hosted in honor of the IAF’s 70th anniversary on May 22, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The photograph, shot from a second aircraft, shows the F-35 flying past the Lebanese coast in broad daylight. Beirut and its Rafic Hariri International Airport are both clearly visible in the image. It was not clear when exactly the picture was captured.

Aviation expert David Cenciotti noted on Twitter that instead of operating in stealth mode, the F-35 in the photograph appeared to be flying with radar reflectors, small nubs that make the aircraft significantly easier to spot on a radar.

Cenciotti, who runs the Aviationist blog, said the picture was not of high enough quality to determine definitively if these reflectors were indeed used.

The fifth generation F-35 stealth fighter, of which Israel currently has a fleet of nine, is considered one of the most advanced aircrafts in the world, capable of operating virtually undetected by air defenses.

The decision to reveal both the image and the operational use of the F-35, including in Syria, was seen by many defense analysts as a subtle threat to Israel’s nemesis Iran, with which it is fighting an ongoing, mostly quiet war in Syria.

In addition to the general reminder to Iran of Israel’s technological superiority, the photograph from above Beirut would also serve as a warning to Tehran’s main proxy, the Hezbollah terrorist group, which has its headquarters in the Lebanese capital.

Israeli F-35 fighter flies during an aerial show at a graduation ceremony for soldiers who have completed the IAF Flight Course, at the Hatzerim Air Base in the Negev desert, December 27, 2017. ( Flash90)

“You know that we just won the Eurovision with the song ‘Toy.’ Well, the F-35 is not a toy,” Norkin said at the conference, referring to the lyrics of Netta Barzilai’s winning song.

The air force chief made his remarks to dozens of commanders or deputy commanders of air forces from around the world visiting Israel as part of a three-day conference in honor of the IAF’s 70th anniversary.

Israel began receiving the fifth-generation F-35 stealth fighter from the United States in December 2016. The aircraft were declared operational approximately a year later.

The fifth-generation fighter jet has been lauded as a “game-changer” by the Israeli military, not only for its offensive and stealth capabilities, but for its ability to connect its systems with other aircraft and form an information-sharing network.

Detractors, however, balked at the high price tag for the aircraft: approximately $100 million apiece. (The manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, says the cost is expected to go down as more countries purchase the F-35.)

The F-35 stealth fighters are operated by the air force’s Golden Eagle Squadron, based in the Nevatim Air Base in central Israel.

Israel has agreed to purchase 50 F-35 fighters in total from the United States, which are scheduled to be delivered in installments of twos and threes by 2024.

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