Israel’s air force commander gave an apparently unintended insight into his priorities and preoccupations, when he remarked during comments about the defense budget that Israel might need to send its attack planes to Tehran at very short notice.
Speaking about the imperative for the government to allocate additional funding to the armed forces, Israel Air Force chief Major-General Amir Eshel declared that “there’s no one in this room who’d be prepared to ride in a car as old as our planes. I’m telling you, no-one. Yesterday these planes were in Gaza, and tomorrow we may send them to Tehran.” The remarks were not delivered in the tone of a threat, but rather as a statement about a possible mission that would require up-to-date equipment.
Eshel’s comments, broadcast Sunday on the local Channel 2 News, came as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yair Lapid sparred over the national budget, with Netanyahu earlier Sunday asserting that, in the wake of the summer’s 50-day Israel-Hamas conflict, “We need a significant increase of several billion in the defense budget.”
Netanyahu has repeatedly vowed that Israel will prevent Iran from attaining a nuclear weapons capability, acting alone if necessary. In a major address last week in which he highlighted Israel’s role in confronting worldwide jihadist terrorism, and expressed Jerusalem’s full support for the American-led offensive against the Islamic State organization, the prime minister took pains to stress that the struggle against Sunni radicalism should not lead the world to neglect the threat of Shiite extremism, championed by Iran.
The greatest threat to world peace, Netanyahu said, would be a nuclear-equipped Iran. “You would see things you never imagined could be possible,” he said, describing a scenario in which the regime in Tehran succeeded in obtaining nuclear weapons. “Horrors you couldn’t even contemplate come to fruition. The ultimate terror. A terrorist regime with the weapons of the greatest terror of them all. We must not let that happen.”
In an address to the UN General Assembly last October, Netanyahu said Israel would act on its own if necessary to stop Iran attaining nuclear weapons. There should be no confusion over this, Netanyahu said, warning that “Israel will never acquiesce to nuclear arms in the hands of a rogue regime that repeatedly promises to wipe us out… If Israel is forced to stand alone” against that threat, “Israel will stand alone,” he said, though it would know that it was also defending others.