The commander of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Air Force, Brigadier General Farzad Ismaili, was fired in May by the country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, after he concealed violations of Iranian airspace by Israeli Air Force F-35 stealth fighter jets. Ismaili had been in his post since 2010.
The incident came to light on Saturday when it was reported by Kuwait’s Al Jarida, which cited senior Iranian military officials. Intelligence services and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps apparently only started to investigate the case under the direct orders of Khamenei after a report in March.
One of the sources cited said that Iran’s air defence system, as well as its Russian S-300 anti-missile system, failed to detect the Israeli fighter jets entering and leaving Iranian airspace, and that Ismaili kept the information secret in order to conceal his own operational failure.
Iranian intelligence, however, discovered that the Israelis had carried out the manoeuvre to test the possibility of an undetected attack on Iran’s military bases and other sites. During the incursions, the Israeli aircraft photographed the bases and gathered sensitive information.
Khamenei replaced Ismaili with his deputy, General Alireza Sabahi-Fard. Following the reports about the F-35s and the ease with which they penetrated Iranian airspace, Khamenei also now suspects possible cooperation between Russia and Israel, particularly a scenario in which the Russians gave Israel the secret code to access the S-300 radars within Iran.
The publicity about the incident and the suspicion which surrounds it comes amidst increased violation of Iranian airspace in recent months by the US, in particular, resulting in Iran shooting down an American drone in June. Moreover, Israel has also been striking Iranian military installations across Iraq and Syria in order to counter the Islamic Republic’s influence in the region and prevent a link-up between Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iranian forces, as well as the creation of a land corridor through which arms can be transported.