Air force: Israel still mulling preemptive strikes on foes

IAF chief Amir Eshel does not specify a target; predicts that air bases will come under Hezbollah fire in future conflicts

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Israeli Air Force commander Amir Eshel (photo credit: Sivan Farraj)
Israeli Air Force commander Amir Eshel (photo credit: Sivan Farraj)

The option of carrying out preemptive airstrikes against countries posing an impending security threat to Israel is still on the table, Israeli Air Force Commander Amir Eshel stated Wednesday.

He added that the military must ensure that its pilots possess the skills necessary to follow through with such a mission should it be ordered.

“In pure military terms, there is a very big advantage [to preemptive strikes], as they produce results, assuming that you have the capability,” Eshel said during a conference in Tel Aviv organized by the The Kinneret Center on Peace, Security and Society.

“In order to reach the [enemy] targets, you have to pass through [advanced surface-to-air missile defense systems], though not necessarily physically. But it’s definitely a challenge, to attack the targets and pass through all that protects them,” he acknowledged.

Eshel said Israel may be forced to choose between properly defending itself from an enemy missile attack and carrying out a preemptive strike, as deployment of defense systems across the country would give away the element of surprise and significantly harm the air force’s efforts to carry out its covert missions successfully.

“If the enemy has the capacity to hurt us with shooting and rockets, to what extent are we willing to be less protected from such an attack? This is a very difficult dilemma,” he said.

Eshel did not specify which countries may be the target of a preemptive Israeli strike, but said that at any rate, “[I am] convinced that Israeli air bases will be the number one goal for [Lebanese terrorist group] Hezbollah as soon as such a conflict begins.”

In March, Israel’s recently retired chief of staff, Lt. Gen. (res.) Benny Gantz hinted that he helped prevent a possible Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Benny Gantz speaks during a decorations and citations ceremony at the Palmachim Airbase on Feb 2, 2015 (photo credit: Flash90)
Benny Gantz speaks during a decorations and citations ceremony at the Palmachim Airbase on Feb 2, 2015 (photo credit: Flash90)

One month earlier, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that Israel would continue to preempt enemy plans against the Jewish state, all but publicly confirming the country’s involvement in a January airstrike in Syria that left at least seven Hezbollah and Iranian operatives dead.

Among the dead in the Golan strike was Jihad Mughniyeh, son of the late Hezbollah military chief Imad Mughniyeh, who was wanted in Europe and the US for terror activities and was assassinated in Syria in February 2008 in an operation believed to have been conducted by Israeli and possibly other Western intelligence agencies.

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