F-35s seen flying over southern Lebanon, Beirut in apparent threat by Israel

Fighter jets spotted over areas where Hezbollah maintains a significant presence; Israeli Air Force also releases audio from one of its strikes in Syria over the past year

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

An F-35 jet maneuvers during a graduation ceremony for pilots who have completed the IAF Flight Course, at the Hatzerim Air Base in the Negev desert, December 26, 2018. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)
Illustrative. An F-35 jet maneuvers during a graduation ceremony for pilots who have completed the IAF Flight Course, at the Hatzerim Air Base in the Negev desert, December 26, 2018. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)

F-35 stealth fighter jets were spotted over southern Lebanon and Beirut, where the Hezbollah terror group maintains a major presence, throughout the day on Monday, amid a recent uptick in reported Israeli strikes on Iranian and Iran-linked forces in nearby Syria.

As the aircraft, which were widely claimed to be Israeli, are capable of flying undetected, the decision to fly them low enough in the sky to make them clearly visible from the ground appeared to be a deliberate message to Hezbollah of Israel’s air superiority.

The Israel Defense Forces refused to comment on the report, citing its policy of not discussing air force activities.

The images of the F-35s — incorrectly identified as the less advanced F-15 fighter jet — were shared on social media by the Lebanese reporter Ali Choeib, who is widely believed to have deep ties to Hezbollah, working for the al-Manar television station, which is affiliated with the terror group.

According to Choeib, several Israeli fighter jets flew a number of times into Lebanese airspace throughout the day, reaching at one point at least as far as Beirut.

Lebanon routinely accuses Israel of flying jets through its airspace in violation of United Nations Security Council resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Israel maintains that it is forced to fly its aircraft over Lebanon in order to track and prevent the illegal activities of Hezbollah, which the Lebanese government is supposed to keep in check under the same resolution.

It was at least the second time that the advanced fighter jet was captured on film flying over Beirut. In the first case, Israel photographed the aircraft as it flew over the Lebanese capital in 2018, displaying the image to visiting foreign air force commanders. The photograph was then leaked to Channel 12 news, which aired it.

Monday’s F-35 flyby came as Israel reportedly stepped up its attacks on Iran-affiliated sites in next-door Syria, where Tehran is allegedly attempting to build up a permanent military presence and transferring weapons to its proxies in the region, notably Hezbollah.

Israel is particularly concerned about Iran transporting advanced, precision-guided missiles, which the military sees as a serious threat to the country, to Hezbollah through Syria.

On Monday, the Israeli Air Force gave the Kan broadcaster the audio recordings from one of the airstrikes it conducted in Syria over the past year. The air force did not specify when.

“You have permission. Complete launches at Batman. Complete launches, Batman,” the commander is heard in the recording.

“Batman, they’re all awake,” the pilot answers, apparently indicating the munitions were launched.

Over the past month, Israel has reportedly conducted at least five airstrikes on targets in Syria — the most recent of them last Friday — hitting not only Iranian-linked forces but also Syrian air defense batteries, which fired large quantities of surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft munitions at the Israeli aircraft.

The IDF has launched hundreds of strikes in Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011 against moves by Iran to establish a permanent military presence in the country and efforts to transport advanced, game-changing weapons to terrorist groups in the region, principally Hezbollah.

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