A message to the radical axis 

Source: A message to the radical axis – Israel Hayom

Yoav Limor

We can assume that Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin’s speech left his audience of fellow air force chiefs green with envy on Tuesday. There isn’t an air force in the world that wouldn’t want the most advanced fighter jet on the planet in its arsenal.

Beyond having it, they would love even more to be able to use it for operational purposes. Norkin told his counterparts he has checked both those boxes – after revealing that Israel is the first country in the world to use the F-35 in combat.

Cynics will certainly wonder how much money the manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, paid for Norkin to say what he said in front of such an audience. The F-35 is the most ambitious weapons project in history, but after all the well-documented malfunctions and delays Lockheed needs success stories like it needs oxygen – and there’s nothing quite like Israeli airstrikes, with the bonus of photographic evidence of an F-35 flying invisible to radar over Beirut, to bolster its image and consumer confidence.

Even greater cynics would say this was a clever ploy by the defense establishment to justify its request for a budget bonus of NIS 1 billion. The air force is openly seeking additional F-35 squadrons and wants to expand its existing arsenal from 50 stealth planes to 75 – and although the planes are funded by American aid dollars, a budgetary bonus would give the establishment more flexibility regarding other procurements.

Israel has ‘reality changing’ weapons

The answer, it appears, is far less conspiratorial. The purpose of Norkin’s comments was twofold. First, he wanted to share the air force’s accomplishments with his colleagues. After delivering a strategic briefing he went on to discuss the air force’s evolution from 1948 to today, expanding on the use of its most sophisticated weapon. It was a professional overview for an audience of professionals, and even if there was an element of “braggadocio,” this isn’t unreasonable within such an exclusive circle. To be sure, in attendance were air force chiefs from the United States, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, India and Brazil – among whom the IAF stands as an equal, at the very least.

Norkin’s second and essentially primary objective was to send a message to the radical Tehran-Damascus-Beirut axis. Beyond showcasing an Israeli weapon none of its enemies can contend with, because they can’t see it, Israel has “reality changing” tools to effectively counter any aggression.

Israel’s qualitative military advantage, which isn’t particularly new, has always afforded it maximum maneuverability. The anomalous downing of an Israeli F-16 in February stemmed from a technical malfunction; it certainly doesn’t indicate an erosion of Israel’s absolute aerial dominance in the region, amply exhibited by the hundreds of airstrikes it has carried out in recent years. But now, with the F-35 in its arsenal, the air force has a different dimension at its disposal whose impact is sure to reverberate throughout the region (and beyond, to Moscow for example, which is likely examining how its own defenses can contend with this new player in the arena).

On a side note, it’s impossible to ignore the disconcerting gap between the air force and land army. The army presented by Norkin on Tuesday is cutting-edge, sophisticated and a global trailblazer, which along with quality intelligence gathering capabilities positions Israel light years ahead of its enemies. In the next war, however, on every front, the land army will also be thrust into action, and there, unfortunately, Israel’s advantage is significantly smaller.

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