A recent story in the Jerusalem Post, citing a Kuwaiti media source, claimed that Israel sent two F-35A stealth fighters into Iranian airspace undetected, overflying Bandar Abbas, Shiraz, and Esfahan, before returning. The two fighters, the story alleges, were not even spotted on Russian radar. Neither Israeli nor American military officials would confirm or deny that the overflight took place. The notion that Israel could enter Iranian airspace at will has startling implications. But could the mission have actually taken place the way the story described?

The combat radius of the F-35A casts some doubt

The story suggested that the two fighters flew over Syria and Iraq before performing their mission over Iran. The combat radius of an F-35A, defined as the maximum distance that an aircraft can fly, accomplish a task (such as bombing a nuclear site) and then return with minimal reserves is between 1239 and 1407 kilometers. However, the distance between Haifa, near where the two fighters would have taken off, and – say – Bandar Abbas on the Persian Gulf is 2664.4 kilometers, far outside that range.

Some alternative scenarios

How much truth, therefore, is there to the story about the Israeli overflight of Iran? One scenario suggests that the story is an example of disinformation, perhaps planted by Israeli Intelligence.

The goal would be to strike fear into the Iranian mullahs and concern among the Russians concerning the idea that their expensive radar equipment is useless against stealth aircraft such as the F-35A. However, the militaries of Iran and Russia can do the math as well, so they must know that the story as related in the Jerusalem Post is unlikely.

An alternate scenario suggests that the mission took place, but following a different route. The two F-35As flew over Saudi airspace, perhaps landing for refueling at a base inside the Kingdom, before going on with their mission over Iran.

Israel and Saudi Arabia’s alliance against Iran is one of the worst-kept secrets in the Middle East.

Recently, the Kingdom opened its airspace to Israeli aircraft, presumably of the civilian kind, but likely military jets as well. If Israel were to launch a strike against Iranian nuclear and missile sites, the operation would almost certainly be conducted with the cooperation of the Saudi government. Riyadh would be just as pleased as Jerusalem to see Iran’s nuclear program reduced to smoking craters, so long as they had plausible deniability for their part in the operation.

In that scenario, the mission of the Israeli F-35As was a Dry Run, to see if the thing could be accomplished. If so, the operation succeeded brilliant, and the Iranians had best look to their defenses.