Gallant to pilots who intercepted Iran’s attack: ‘Our work is only going to increase’

Defense minister says Israel has freedom to do whatever it needs to; experts estimate Iran’s obsolete air defense systems no match for IAF in direct attack

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks to fighter jet pilots at the Tel Nof Airbase, April 18, 2024. (Shachar Yurman/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks to fighter jet pilots at the Tel Nof Airbase, April 18, 2024. (Shachar Yurman/Defense Ministry)

The Israeli Air Force will have its work cut out for it going forward, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told fighter jet pilots who participated in the operation to counter the roughly 350 drones and missiles Iran fired at Israel between Saturday and Sunday.

“Our missions are not going to decrease, they will only increase,” Gallant said to the pilots on Thursday. “This reality that we are being attacked from seven different arenas is complex, and it will persistently challenge us.”

He said Israel “has the freedom of action to do what it wants, thanks to the fact that the Air Force is creating a defense, and what you did last Saturday was very impressive.”

According to the Israel Defense Forces, Iran’s attack on Israel included 170 drones, 30 cruise missiles and 120 ballistic missiles, of which 99 percent were intercepted.

All the drones and cruise missiles were downed outside the country’s airspace by the Israeli Air Force and its allies, including the United States, United Kingdom, Jordan, France and others.

The actions of Israel’s pilots last weekend have given the country “the ability to know that when we react [to Iran], we’ve got insurance — that what is decided will be carried out,” Gallant told the pilots. “This offers great confidence to the Israeli public and to the decision-makers.”

An anti-missile system fires interception missiles at drones and missiles fired from Iran, as seen over Jerusalem, on April 14, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

In the days following Iran’s unprecedented attack, Israel’s war cabinet has been weighing what action, if any, it should take in retaliation.

Allies, including the US, have urged it not to risk igniting a wider regional conflict, but despite the warnings, the cabinet is reportedly leaning toward launching a response of some sort.

Experts have said Israel would have little trouble hitting targets inside Iran should it decide to retaliate directly for the unprecedented drone and missile salvos of Saturday night, citing Tehran’s obsolete air force and indigenous air defense systems based on aging Russian models.

While Iran is a “superpower in tactical ballistic missiles and UAVs,” its air defenses are another matter, Brig. Gen. (res.) Zvika Haimovich, former head of IAF Aerial Defense, said on Thursday.

Iran’s air defenses are built largely around Russian S-200 and S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems or a range of locally produced equivalents such as the Bavar-373, Khordad, Raad, Sayyad and Talash as well as old American and Russian warplanes, some of which date to the 1970s era of Iranian Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.

File: Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami (R) walks past a Khordad-3 air defense system during a visit of an exhibition at the Islamic Revolution and Holy Defense museum in the capital Tehran on September 21, 2019. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Similar systems have been deployed in Syria since 2015, giving Israeli pilots an advantage as they have years of experience in dealing with them.

“Our air force and coalition air forces flew in this environment. They know how to deal effectively with this system,” Haimovich said. “I will respect [the air defenses], but that will not be the main challenge in dealing with Iran.”

The central challenge Israel is likely to face would be to successfully strike military bases in western and southern Iran, which would require the use of penetrating bombs, Sidharth Kausha, a research fellow at the Royal United Strategic Institute in London, said.

Israeli aircraft, such as the stealth F-35 jets, which could evade Iran’s air defense networks, typically carry smaller ordnance, Kausha said. But larger munitions may be needed against deeply buried targets, which would require them to be carried externally on aircraft such as the F-16 — making these more detectable to radars. For safety, pilots might be more likely to launch them from further away.

“The Iranian air defense network is certainly not impenetrable to these aircraft, but this raises the risk of losses and the Iranian capacity to, at least in theory, intercept some incoming standoff munitions increases,” he said.

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