Did Israeli F-35s overfly Iran?

In listening to an interview given by Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, I was surprised to hear him casually say (at 5:10): "Israel flew F-35s to Tehran and made it sort of public.  The leadership of Iran know they did, and (the F-35s) made it back to Israel" (ed: rough transcript made from podcast).

This was news to me, so I did a Bing search that returned mixed results.  CNBC put out a piece last week that treated the issue as "old news" or maybe even "fake news":

In July 2018, a Kuwaiti newspaper reported that Israel had flown a test mission of at least three F-35 jets to Tehran and back from an airbase near Tel Aviv. While never confirmed publicly, a good number of military and political leaders in the region believed and still believe the story. The long-rumored threat the F-35 posed to Iran now seemed like a reality.

Earlier this month, reports in the same Kuwaiti newspaper said that Iran's military leadership panicked enough over the purported stealth mission that it kept news of it from reaching Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.  But when Khamenei found out about the mission, he reportedly moved to fire not only Iran's air force chief but also the long-serving and powerful commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps. That's major impact without even firing a shot.

In another recent piece, CNBC noted:

[In] a somewhat cheeky statement ... Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ... barely held back a smile as he said that Israel can reach Iran, but Iran cannot reach Israel.  He didn't add the words "undetected by radar," but it was surely implied.

Israel Air Force F-35 I (IAF photo).

The National Interest's Michael Peck wrote (also last year) about the purported incursion here:

So did the incident really happen? First, if the incident were true, that would mean that operational missions are already being flown by the F-35I Adir ("Mighty"), the Israeli version of the [F-35][.] ... The Israeli Air Force (IAF) has a well-earned reputation for boldness, but there is a difference between being bold and foolhardy[.] ... Besides the technical risks, there is a bigger question: why fly the mission at all? Tensions are high ... the only reason to do it would be to send Iran a message.

Peck concludes: "Occam's razor says go with the simplest explanation, which is that the episode never happened."

The Jerusalem Post also reported last year on the (supposedly) same incursion but said only two planes flew.

Jim Hoft of Gateway Pundit also published quotes from the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida last year here.

Joel Pollak, senior editor-at-large at Breitbart News, recently posted about the purported incursion here, but he, too, questioned the veracity of the reports.

Pollak linked to this piece by National Interest writer Dario Leone containing this tidbit:

According to Al Jarida, Iranian intelligence received top secret information that the Israeli fighter planes even managed to photograph Iran's underground bases. Khamenei, who received this information, now suspects a cooperation between Russia and Israel, and that the Russians gave Israel the secret code of the Russian radar in Iran.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is reported to have fired Brigadier General Farzad Ismaili, the commander of Iran's air defense system, over the incursion.

That's basically all one can find on the supposed incident on the internet, and it brings to mind the exchange Conan Doyle had Holmes once have:

"Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"

"To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."

"The dog did nothing in the night-time."

"That was the curious incident."

It seems as though the mainstream media had and has no interest in the story.  Why?  Was it anti-Israel bias?  Was it fear of stirring the pot?  Were the implications too grave?  Or maybe it was because every piece I could find eventually used Al Jarida as the original source of the story.  Al Jarida is owned by American-educated Mohammed Jassem Al-Sager, who was once chairman of the Arab Parliament and, as such, was and still must be close to the Saudis.

So maybe the MSM and others think the story is nothing but a Saudi-planted bit of real fake news.

Or maybe it was fear of reporting any Trump administration involvement since, to me, it is inconceivable  that Israel would do such a thing with the F-35 without briefing Washington as it did before string Assad's reactor in 2007:

Israel discussed the next steps with Washington. Israeli defense secretary Amir Peretz briefed his American counterpart Robert Gates on April 18 about the Mossad's discovery.  Pres. George W. Bush, however, was careful. After the media disaster in Iraq and the alleged weapons of mass destruction that were nowhere to be found, the Bush administration wanted to avoid another mishap by any means.

If the incident occurred, Trump either agreed or Israel went ahead against Trump's wishes.

Let's revert to the interview and listen carefully to Hoenlein, for it seems like he was offhandedly making the remark as if it were common knowledge.  Furthermore, John Batchelor carried on as if this was not news to him.

Hoenlein is no fool, and he is well-connected with the Israeli government, military, and intelligence services at every level.  Therefore, I have to believe that he believes that the story is true.

If the incident did, if fact, occur, then some of the critical implications need to be examined.  It means that Iran knows that Israel can put the country's lights out at any time without notice or warning.  It also means that Israel can put an atomic bomb on any target at any time without notice.

It certainly means that Iran must be certain that it can immediately take out every Israeli F-35 (including any that might be in Azerbaijan) in any attack by it or its proxies in Lebanon.

It means Washington may or may not have any advance knowledge should Israel need to respond to an attack or threat of immanent attack,  Former intelligence head, Gen. Michael Hayden once spoke of such a situation and of the options and quandaries attendant to an ominous enemy threat:

The stakes: Syria's missile arsenal includes chemical warheads that cover the entire Israeli territory. American analysts warned that bombing this reactor could lead to a war whose outcome was unknown. On the other hand, Dagan makes it absolutely clear: "Israel cannot accept a situation in which an enemy state is armed with nuclear weapons."  And now, a fateful decision had to be made that could alter the course of history[.]

The list of implications, critical or otherwise, goes on, and I leave it to readers to think of them.  However, if the story is true then the situation is very different from what conventional wisdom now has it.  That situation is, indeed, fraught, and the Twelvers may not care about Iran's destruction, but Iran's position is more parlous than it may seem.

I don't know if the story is true, and nothing I have been able to uncover confirms its truth, but Hoenlein and Batchelor believe it to be true so I'd be willing to push all my chips into the pot in the belief that it is true.

The author is retired, his profile may be found on LinkedIn, and he usually responds to emails sent to bilschan@hotmail.com.