Since 7 October, the Israeli air force has repeatedly bombed the besieged Gazan population. Brian Parkin explains how Israel has built the fourth biggest air force in the world, and how it is able to drop the deadliest bombs and missiles on a defenceless civilian population.

Israeli bomb damage in Gaza Strip October 2023 – photo from Palestinian News & Information Agency (Wafa) in contract with APAimages used under CC licence.

At the end of the Second World War it was clear to Western strategists that the control of oil production would determine the balance of global power for the foreseeable future. Itself self-sufficient in oil, the United States saw the Arabian Gulf region as a key oil producing region. So through control of that region and its resources by military and diplomatic means, the US could prove itself essential to the prosperity and security of its allies.

Since the end of WW2, the United States has ranked its allied states in terms of their trustworthiness. This has allowed the most supine – and often the most authoritarian – states to be trusted with the highest technology weapons and defence systems against a common enemy- as defined by the US State Department. Often such classifications go awry, as in the case of Iran in 1979 – an event explained as ‘un-foreseen’.

The Yom Kippur war of 1973 and the consequent OPEC oil strike crisis, followed by the 1979 Iran crisis, greatly changed the balance of power in the Middle East. Israel became central to American strategy, as the most dependable American ally in the region – a position from which it has so far been unseated.

Israel: the non-Muslim bet

In 1945 American president Roosevelt and the King of Saudi Arabia met in secret on the Suez Bitter Lakes to discuss matters of mutual security. The US was making the Saudis an offer they couldn’t refuse. In exchange for American military protection to the House of Saud, the US would have sole access to the riches of its oilfields. The deal was done, and year after year, the wider Middle East has seen torrents of arms flowing into a region in direct proportion to its growing instability.

But the 2011 Arab Spring risings and the 2014 Gaza siege showed how deep tensions in the region ran, and that the historical injustice of Palestine remained as pivotal as ever. The risings highlighted the danger that even the most trusted of its Muslim allies in the region could succumb to a ‘domino effect’ of collapse, which pushed the US into increasing reliance on its ‘Westernised’ ally Israel. But Israel’s repeated offensives against Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza are increasingly making that reliance look problematic for the US.

The arms that the US has fed into Israel since the ‘fall’ of Iran were partially intended as a stockpile for the US to draw on in case of a wider Middle Eastern war. The Middle East as a whole has provided ample customers for the arms manufacturers of the US’s NATO allies – Britain and France in particular – but it is Israel that has been the biggest customer for US military hardware, especially aircraft and ground to air defence systems.

In order to ensure that Israel remains an ally with the capacity to stand as a major armed power, the US has made generous contributions towards Israel’s arms budgets. Since the 1973 Yom Kippur war, this subsidy has run at a 2020 equivalent of $3 billion per year, with the Biden administration gifting an additional $3.6 billion the day after 7 October.

 Israel as weapons tester

In the early 1970’s it was clear from the military disgrace in Vietnam, that the US required a combat aircraft update – but it was equally clear that because of the defeat there was little appetite in Congress for extra arms spending. This meant that the new generation of warplanes – the McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) F15 and General Dynamics (now Lockheed Martin) F16 – would have to be relatively low cost and completely built in the US, And to minimise costs, good export sales to trustworthy allies would be necessary.

Despite their age, aircraft now some 40 years old, if well maintained or modified, can still deliver no end of newer bombs or missiles. Since 7 October Israeli aircraft have unleashed the most staggering array of lethal advanced technology. As the Palestinians have no air defence systems whatsoever, this attrition has gone on with impunity.

Israel’s F15 Eagles-have a bombload of around 13.3 tonnes. There are 84 of the earlier versions, some subsequently upgraded, and 25 of the Strike version, which have been involved in ‘precision’ bomb attacks on underground bunkers and Hamas control centres using 910 kg Boeing GPS guided bombs – at a cost of at least $50,000 each. These bombs have an accuracy to within 5 metres. Many bombs are fitted with ‘bunker-buster’ warheads- as identified by the massive crater size in the Jabalia refugee camp, and have the combined ‘earthquake’ effect of totally destroying utilities such as water and sewerage systems, as well as shattering the foundations of every building within half of a kilometre.

The F16 Hawk, of which Israel has 225 of all versions, has been the backbone of every air onslaught to date. This aircraft has a bombload of around six tonnes with recently two seat modified versions able to deploy the larger GPS guided 910 kg bombs. But more regularly it has been used in the indiscriminate bombing raids aimed at destroying civilian infrastructure and housing in order to render over 80 percent of Gaza’s 2.3 million population homeless.

 Dumb intelligence and ‘smart’ bombs

Israel’s relentless bombing is directed by an integrated ‘machine learning’ IT system called ‘the Gospel’, which is used to generate target updates and their claimed ‘value’ in terms of either Hamas weapons stores, command centres and the like. Their claim is that the Gospel can generate over 1,500 targets every day, thus justifying hour by hour bombing raids in a relentless daily offensive. This clearly involves defining almost everything in Gaza as a ‘Hamas target’.

Hence the day after the seven-day pause in fighting and the ‘renewed ferocity’ when over 200 bombing strikes were recorded. Assuming Gospel’s awesome powers to be true, then an accumulated 10,500 targets were lying in wait to be struck. But what is meant by a ‘strike’? According to Israeli film propaganda it means five aircraft taking off together, each carrying at least seven tonnes of bombs. Gospel then directs each aircraft onto its target according to its ‘value’.  Although it is difficult to reckon with any accuracy the precise effects of such a strike, what we can realistically estimate is that on this day alone, a minimum of 6,500 tonnes of bombs were dropped.

However, given the median $50,000 price tag per ‘smart’ bomb, it is inconceivable that these made up the majority of weapons deployed. What is far more likely is that the military resort to unguided and inaccurate ‘dumb’ high-explosive demolition bombs at a bargain price of less than $400 each, upon which Gospel will have no control. Thus most Israeli air strikes are indiscriminate.

 Enter the F35

Although the F15 and F16 aircraft are presently the most advanced in the Middle East, the Israeli government has long lobbied for more and more advanced weapons systems. Central to this has been demands for the latest and most advanced aircraft now entering service – the Lockheed Martin F35, the most expensive weapons system in US history. This aircraft is again reserved for the most trusted US allies, just eight out of the 31 NATO countries – and of course Israel. For the manufacturers and the US military, Israel provides an essential testbed as a country ‘in a state of constant conflict’.

Without going into the capabilities of the F35, Israel has claimed the first operational actions of this aircraft. In Gaza, it was first used in a daylight attack on a Hamas tunnel entrance on the Israel-Gaza border on 7 December. This was followed by the shooting down of Hezbollah drones over Lebanon’s airspace, attacks on targets in Syria, and repeated incursions into Iranian airspace.

It is unlikely that F35s will be used very much over Gaza given the deadly capabilities of other Israeli aircraft – the air force has over 580 combat aircraft, compared with the RAF’s 564. But the F35 – of which Israel has ordered 70 – greatly increases Israel’s offensive capacities. With a range of 2,200 km, it will be able, fully equipped, to reach anywhere in the Middle East. And it is now well understood within military and nuclear inspectorate spheres that Israel currently possesses at least the capacity to assemble a tactical nuclear weapon – which the F35 is well capable of delivering.

The British connection

The F35 aircraft currently being delivered to Israel are of the F35A type. In the F35 Joint Strike Fighter programme Britain is the only partner entrusted with the manufacture of Tier One components. There are nine major component companies (listed below), but over another 95 supplying other minor parts.

The Lockheed/Martin blurb for the F35 British involvement states that they will have over 100 British suppliers; that 15 percent of F35 content will be UK; that it will support 20,000 plus jobs across all regions; and that over 3,000 F35s will eventually be built in Britain.

The nine major component suppliers are:


Martin Baker
Ejector seats
Denham, Uxbridge

GE Aviation
Integrated systems

Ultra Electronics
Intelligent systems
Marylebone, London

UTC Actuation
Control surface hydraulics

Collins Aerospace
Air management systems
Monkton, Prestwick

Rolls Royce
Rear engine components

BAe Systems
Rear control surfaces
Samlesbury, Preston

Cobham Missions
Refuelling probe
Wimbourne, Dorset

Dunlop Aircraft
Aircraft tyres

























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