Photo Credit: Hagai Frid Courtesy IDC Herziliya Conference 2017
Major-General Amir Eshel

Speaking on the second day of the 17th annual Herzilya Conference hosted by the Interdisciplinary Center at Herzliya, Israel Air Force Commander Major-General Amir Eshel noted, that one fortunate outcome of the civil war in Syria for Israel is the fact that “there are many players who have an interest in preventing the possibility of a war between Israel and Hezbollah, or other forces.”

“For us, this presents an opportunity because it gives us time to build our strength,” Eshel stated. “If a war breaks out in the Northern Arena, we need to act with full force from the beginning. What we could do in 34 days during the Second Lebanon War, we can now do in 48 hours. The growth of our strength has not been linear.”

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Therefore, Eshel suggested, “in the next war we will be called on to fight while our bases are under fire. We are investing a lot in ensuring that in any future state of conflict we have full air superiority a lot faster than in the past, taking into account the capabilities of our foes in Lebanon.”

“We are doing whatever possible to reduce any collateral damage to civilians in any war, and we aspire towards zero civilian casualties,” the Air Force Chief continued. “But I cannot delude myself; in every war there will always be people who are harmed inadvertently. I have a recommendation to the people of Lebanon: Hezbollah has chosen to stay and infiltrate some of your homes – if you leave your homes as soon as the conflict erupts you will not be harmed.”

addressed the strategic challenges faced by Israel and the Middle East, Eshel said, “There is an unusual meeting of interests between Israel and other regional states in the fight against terror. The Israel Defense Forces and intelligence services have a very important role in the area of aviation diplomacy, and the ability to meet Israel’s interests whilst supporting the interests of our partners in this region. The criteria which have defined how we maintain our operational capability is to meet our needed outcomes while not wanting to escalate. To act in a way that is effective and determined, while avoiding an escalation into war – it is a very complicated dilemma.”

He went on to say that, “In the recent period, there are new parameters that make this dilemma much more complex. We want to maintain our freedom to operate and don’t want to harm those who do not want to harm us. The skies over the Middle East are very congested, much more so than in the past. There are issues that where the difference between success and failure is measured in seconds. We cannot make any mistakes. Our activities in this period in between wars, beyond removing the threats over us, have an effect that will be measured only with hindsight. What we are currently doing, and the results which are very well-known to our enemies, to my mind are postponing a war. Does this mean there won’t be a war? One cannot promise that.”

Addressing the situation in the Middle East, Eshel stressed, “In 2011, the Middle East changed dramatically. Who can guarantee that this will not happen again? The level of arms sales in the Middle East over the last few years stood at approximately $200 billion. Mostly for air combat arsenals. These weapons can potentially harm the State of Israel and partially challenges the air force’s ability to secure air superiority in the Middle East. We cannot wake up one morning in ten or twenty years and say ‘we forgot to plan for this.’ I am not here to share an apocalyptic vision for a Middle East that collapses tomorrow morning, but we have to be ready for war not only in the Northern Arena but in all arenas.”

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