November 3, 2023 | Flash Brief

Eyeing Growing Houthi Threat, Israel Downs Cruise Missile With F-35s

November 3, 2023 | Flash Brief

Eyeing Growing Houthi Threat, Israel Downs Cruise Missile With F-35s

Latest Developments

The Israel Defense Forces said on November 2 that it used its advanced F-35I Adir fighter jets this week to down a cruise missile likely launched by the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen. This is believed to be the first time an F-35 has downed a cruise missile, marking a new milestone for the fighter. The Houthis in Yemen have targeted Israel several times since the October 7 Hamas massacre. On October 31, Israel also activated its Arrow air defense system to intercept a ballistic missile fired by the Houthis.

Expert Analysis

“The Houthis are a leading threat to Saudi Arabia as well as a growing threat to the United States and Israel, underscoring the wisdom and necessity of prioritizing the establishment of a combined regional security architecture that includes the United States, its Arab partners, and Israel. Tehran wants to keep Arabs and Israelis fighting one another rather than cooperating to counter the real threat to regional security: the Islamic Republic of Iran. Washington, Riyadh, and Jerusalem shouldn’t play into Tehran’s decades-long ploy.” — Bradley Bowman, Senior Director of FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power

“The use of F-35s to down a cruise missile is an important accomplishment. Israel has increasingly used new technologies to protect against threats and neutralize adversaries. In a multi-front conflict against Iranian threats from Yemen, Lebanon, Syria and other areas, the use of capabilities such as the F-35 gives Israel an edge over opponents.” — Seth J. Frantzman, FDD Adjunct Fellow

Israel Acquires More F-35s

Israel first signed a deal in 2010 to buy F-35s, becoming one of the earliest users of the aircraft. The first planes arrived in 2016, and Israel subsequently raised its planned buy to 50 F-35s. In July of 2023, Israel agreed to buy 25 additional jets, raising the total fleet to 75 once delivery has been fulfilled. The F-35 is produced by Lockheed Martin, and Israel’s version of the plane is called the Adir, Hebrew for “mighty” or “mighty one.” Israel first used the warplane to strike Iranian targets in Syria in 2018. In 2021, Israel used F-35s to shoot down Iranian drones over Syria. Israeli defense industries increasingly partner with U.S. companies to supply wings and helmets for the F-35.

Increasing Iranian-Backed Regional Threats

The expanded use of the F-35 comes amid increasing Iranian-backed regional threats. Iranian proxy militias have carried out at least 27 attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria in recent days, said Pentagon press secretary Brigadier General Pat Ryder on October 31. Hezbollah in Lebanon continues to fire missiles and rockets at Israel. The Houthis in Yemen have also vowed to continue launching drones and missiles.

How arming Saudi Arabia helped Israel and the United States,” by Bradley Bowman and Ryan Brobst

Israel Activates Arrow Defense System Against Houthi Missile Over Red Sea,” FDD Flash Brief

Hezbollah Increases Attacks on Israel With Rockets, Missiles,” FDD Flash Brief

U.S. Strikes IRGC Weapon and Ammunition Facilities in Syria,” FDD Flash Brief


Arab Politics Gulf States Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Missiles Iran-backed Terrorism Israel Israel at War Military and Political Power