Senior cabinet ministers reportedly slammed Israeli Air Force chief Amikam Norkin for releasing a picture and details of an Israeli F-35 stealth fighter high above Beirut, saying the move was “arrogant.”
At a cabinet meeting held Wednesday, ministers condemned the display of the image as “unnecessary arrogance and showing off,” and also “inappropriate and unhelpful,” with one minister declaring it is the kind of thing that should not be revealed even to countries closely allied with Israel, Hadashot news reported from within the closed-door meeting.
Although the report didn’t identify which ministers made the comments it noted that Defense Minister Avidgor Liberman told the meeting that the photo was displayed without his knowledge, or that of IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot.
The picture was reportedly shown by 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 photo was subsequently broadcast by Hadashot news on Wednesday night.
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.
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.
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.
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.