The use of Israeli military force against Iran’s nuclear facilities would be an act of “last resort,” Israel’s air force commander said Thursday, but part of his role is to ensure that the air force has “the genuine capacity to get the job done” if ordered to do so.
Major-General Amir Eshel, in his first television interview in the three years since he took command of the Israeli Air Force, told Israel’s Channel 10 news Thursday that an Iran with a nuclear capability “would have grave significance for the whole Middle East, not just for Israel.”
Asked why the air force had not been ordered to strike at Iran in the way that it destroyed Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor at Osiraq in 1981 and, according to foreign reports, a Syrian reactor in 2007, Eshel said that Israel “has a range of tools” for grappling with threats. “The solution is through the use of a combination of these tools.”
The use of military force “is the last resort,” he said. “That decision has not yet been made.”
Nonetheless, he added, “I have to prepare a capability so that if a decision is taken, we have the genuine capacity to get the job done. That’s our role.”
The TV report, which was cleared for broadcast by Israel’s military censors, said that Israel has invested “immense resources” in preparing for a possible strike on Iran. “The Israeli Air Force has been building the capacity to attack Iran for more than a decade,” it said.
Speaking of the Russian-made S-300 air defense system, which Moscow has indicated it may supply to Iran, and which Israel has said it also fears could find its way to Syria, Eshel said its deployment would present “a significant challenge” but one that the Israeli air force could meet. “The S-300 is a very sophisticated system,” he said. “It uses long-range missiles with very impressive capabilities. But there is no challenge that cannot be cracked. It’s not a wall that blocks you and you cannot clear.” He said the air force had been “developing our capabilities — our technology and methodology” for some time to meet the challenge.
The TV report filmed Eshel in the course of a drill, preparing for a “war situation” in which the air force could carry out thousands of missile strikes per day. Eshel said the force has more than trebled some of its offensive capabilities.
The TV crew was also allowed to film in the control room of the Eitan unmanned reconnaissance aircraft, which he said could operate “in any area you can imagine” and which is reported to be be capable of reaching Iran.
Eshel said countries that deployed the S-300 might gain a false sense of “immunity from attack” which might make them prone to carrying out “provocative” and “undesirable” actions in the mistaken belief that they were protected. He did not specify which countries or what kind of actions he was referring to.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly castigated the emerging deal between world powers and Iran, warning that, far from stopping the regime’s nuclear drive, it will “pave the way” to an Iranian nuclear arsenal. Netanyahu has also stressed that Israel will “stand alone” to thwart Iran if necessary, and compared the regime in Tehran to the Nazis.
US President Barack Obama, a firm champion of the emerging deal, has reportedly decided not to meet with Netanyahu until after the June 30 deadline for a final deal with Iran, for fear that the Israeli prime minister would use any such meeting to further criticize the accord, the New York Times reported on Thursday.
Referencing last summer’s 50-day Israel-Hamas war, Eshel said his goal was to prevail decisively and as quickly as possible in any future conflicts. He said that had Israel struck key tower blocks in Gaza, which were reportedly used as Hamas control centers, earlier in the conflict rather than on the 47th day, the war would have ended sooner.
Referring to the Hezbollah terrorist army in south Lebanon, he warned that Hezbollah was “dragging” Lebanon toward “a very harsh war” and has deployed its military machine in the civilian “towns and villages of Lebanon.”
Homes where missiles have been deployed by Hezbollah, Eshel warned, “are essentially military bases… and we’ll hit them.
“Lebanese civilians who live in or close to those homes (where Hezbollah has emplaced missiles) have to know one thing,” he said. If conflict erupts, “they should get out as soon as they can.”
If Hezbollah, with which Israel fought a bitter war in 2006, sparks another conflict, Eshel said, “Lebanon will go through an experience whose dimensions it cannot imagine. I wouldn’t trade places with a single Lebanese.”