Israel fighting ‘a campaign between wars,’ says IAF chief

Israel fighting ‘a campaign between wars,’ says IAF chief

Amir Eshel says the military is working hard to prevent conflict from erupting into a full-blown war on Israel’s nothern border

Mitch Ginsburg is the former Times of Israel military correspondent.

Israel Air Force chief Amir Eshel (photo credit: Yossi Zeliger/Flash 90)
Israel Air Force chief Amir Eshel (photo credit: Yossi Zeliger/Flash 90)

Israel is waging an offensive, defensive and intelligence campaign, a complex and potentially explosive war between wars, Israel Air Force chief Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel said Tuesday.

Speaking at the Eighth Annual International Ilan Ramon Space Conference in Herzliya, Eshel said Israel was fighting “a campaign between wars” and that it was doing its utmost “to keep [our] efforts beneath the level at which war breaks out.”

“And if there is no alternative – maybe it will.”

Eshel described the Middle East as an area of weakened sovereignty and growing threats, saying that the processes at work “are tectonic” and that, right on our border, “no one has any idea what will happen” after the collapse of President Bashar Assad’s regime.

He indicated that the term “Arab Spring” doesn’t adequately describe the upheaval raging through the Middle East, Syria in particular, and said that it is “a season that doesn’t exist in the regional calendar.”

The nearly two-year uprising against the Assad regime has claimed the lives of over 60,000 people, according to recent estimates by the United Nations, and the future may hold a further destabilizing of the nation state to Israel’s northeast.

Speaking of Syria he stressed the threat of both chemical and “state-of-the-art” conventional weapons falling into the hands of non-state actors. The air force “almost exclusively” shoulders the burden of Israel’s defense against these threats, he said.

Advanced conventional weapons, like radar and land-to-sea missiles, however, may have already been transferred into Hezbollah’s arsenals in the past weeks. “The motivation is growing and there is no guarantee that such weapons have not already been passed to Hezbollah’s hands,” said Lt. Col. Assaf Librati, the air force spokesman.

The ability to work with the Mossad, the Shin Bet security service and military intelligence, along with the readiness and flexibility of the air force, he said, mean that when “a problem pops up” there is no one else who can “act almost immediately.”

Israel has said on several occasions that the transfer of chemical weapons to non-state actors, especially Hezbollah, would be a casus belli.  Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom said Sunday that such transfer of arms “would be crossing a line that would demand a different approach.”

Eshel described the intel campaign to protect Israel’s borders as “24/7/365” and stressed, somewhat unusually, the role of manned and unmanned aircraft, as well as “ground forces,” taking part in this conflict. The war, he said, had to address threats from “the sub-conventional to the non-conventional, from the knife to the nuclear.”

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