Gantz tells graduating pilots they could be flying to attack Iran in 2-3 years

Outgoing PM Lapid boasts of Israel’s capabilities to conduct long-range strikes; President Herzog warns that air force can attack ‘any time and by any means, including Iran’

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks at a pilot graduation course at the Hatzerim air base on December 28, 2022 (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks at a pilot graduation course at the Hatzerim air base on December 28, 2022 (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

Outgoing Defense Minister Benny Gantz told graduating air force pilots on Wednesday that they may participate in a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities in the coming years.

“Israel has significantly increased its preparedness in recent years and is preparing for the possibility of an attack on Iran,” Gantz said at the Israeli Air Force’s Hatzerim Airbase in southern Israel, in what was set to be his final address as defense minister.

“You may cross the sky to the east in two or three years and take part in an attack on nuclear sites in Iran, for which we are preparing,” he said.

In the past two years, the Israel Defense Forces has ramped up efforts to prepare a credible military threat against Tehran’s nuclear sites, as Iran looks increasingly unlikely to return to the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

The IDF has said it occasionally attacks arms shipments in Syria bound for Iranian-backed militias, chief among them Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group.

“Others of you may have to fly deep into territory in Lebanon and Syria or head out on missions to rescue Jews around the world. I believe in your ability to succeed in these missions, not only because of the excellent aircraft you will fly in, but because of your morals and professionalism,” Gantz added.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid speaks at a pilot graduation course at the Hatzerim air base on December 28, 2022 (Haim Zach/GPO)

At the ceremony, outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid also warned of Israel’s extensive capabilities in his address to the graduating pilots.

“Two weeks ago we held a large-scale joint exercise with the US Air Force. The exercise, which simulated an attack thousands of kilometers from Israel’s borders, was the first of a series of planned exercises in the near future,” Lapid said

“Our enemies should know that we will not stand idly by in the face of threats that we see as existential. I discussed this with incoming prime minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu, and this is one of the few issues on which there is a consensus in the Israeli public. No Israeli government will agree to Iran becoming nuclear. If it is necessary to act, we will act,” Lapid added.

Israeli Air Force pilots throw their caps in the air during a graduation ceremony at the Hatzerim air force base, December 28, 2022. (Haim Zach/GPO)

President Isaac Herzog hailed the IAF as a “sophisticated, lethal, swift, and precise fist, which is capable of deterring, defending and delivering decisive outcomes.

“It can reach any site, near or far, at any time and by any means we choose. Our enemies also understand this. Yes — including in Iran.” he said.

“Today, everyone knows: The IAF will do whatever it takes, the IDF will do whatever it takes, and the State of Israel will do whatever it takes to defend its citizens and the Jewish people. We shall always prioritize peaceful means, but at the same time, we shall not shy away from achieving a decisive outcome or the military defeat of anyone who rises up to destroy us.”

President Isaac Herzog speaks at a pilot graduation course at the Hatzerim air base on December 28, 2022 (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

Iran’s state media announced last month that it had begun producing enriched uranium at 60 percent purity at the country’s underground Fordo nuclear plant, in addition to enrichment to the same level at a plant in Natanz that it said had begun in 2019.

Enrichment to 60% purity is a short, technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%. Nonproliferation experts have warned in recent months that Iran now has enough 60%-enriched uranium to reprocess into fuel for at least one nuclear bomb.

Israeli officials have also warned of the dangers posed by Iran’s proxies across the region, from Hezbollah in Lebanon to the Houthis in Yemen, as well as other groups based in Syria.

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