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‘This has been one of the IAF’s busiest operational years’

Syria has launched “everything it has” at Israeli aircraft this year, says senior Israel Air Force commander, stressing that the focus of Israel’s strategy remains the prevention of war.

Two Israeli F-35I Adir jets fly in formation. Credit: U.S. Air Force/1st Lt. Erik D. Anthony.
Two Israeli F-35I Adir jets fly in formation. Credit: U.S. Air Force/1st Lt. Erik D. Anthony.

“Earlier this year, we thought the Israel Air Force would have to reduce its operations across the Middle East, but reality dictated otherwise,” a senior IAF officer told Israel Hayom recently.

Col. G., the commander of the Ramon Airbase southwest of Beersheva, from which a considerable number of the IAF’s offensive missions are launched, said that operationally speaking, “This has been one of the most intense years we’ve had since the onset of the ‘campaign between the wars.’ We’ve mounted hundreds of strikes.”

The “campaign between the wars” is a strategic concept employed by the Israel Defense Forces that encompasses a host of covert, and low-intensity military and intelligence efforts, to prevent enemy states and terrorist organizations from becoming stronger. This effort focuses primarily on disrupting the force buildup of the Iranian-Shi’ite axis throughout the Middle East.

According to G., while the military would like to scale back the scope of its activities, “the rate at which we operate stems from the challenges posed by the other side.”

Commenting on both confirmed and alleged Israeli airstrikes in Syria, G. noted that “over the past year alone, the number of surface-to-air missiles fired from Syria at Israeli aircraft has exceeded the number [fired] in wars. They’ve fired hundreds of missiles—everything they have.”

As for the possibility that the Russian S-300 air-defense system, which was delivered to Syria earlier this year, will impede the IAF’s operational leeway in the northern sector, G. said he believes that “if necessary, we will know how to deal with it as well. Naturally, we have to make sure it doesn’t violate our operational freedom.”

He noted that there have been cases when the IAF aborted missions en route because Russian jets had crossed into the target airspace—a lesson learned from the 2018 incident that saw Syrian air defenses down a Russian plane while attempting to counter Israeli missile fire.

Commenting on the controversy over the necessity of the “campaign between the wars,” he said that shelving this strategy may jeopardize the IAF’s operational freedom.

“I don’t know if we could gather [intelligence] in Lebanon the way we do if we hadn’t been operating this way since 2013. If they [the Lebanese army] were equipped with air-defense systems and suddenly decided that they wouldn’t stand for it anymore, it would become difficult,” he said, adding that “they currently don’t have this capability.”

On the other hand, he said, “This strategy’s primary objective, even at the cost of an operational failure, is to avoid war. If we go down to war, then something has gone wrong because that’s not what we intended to do, except in a case where a red line has been crossed.”

This “red line” mainly concerns Iran’s attempt to smuggle advanced, game-changing weapons to its regional proxy Hezbollah, which is based in Lebanon, as well as Hezbollah’s efforts to locally produce precision missiles.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

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