Major General Amir Eshel, commander of the Israeli Air Force, said Wednesday that a top-to-bottom change in the IAF has led to a 400% increase in firepower since 2012, drastically shortening the time it would take Israel to win a war today.
According to Eshel, “Quantitatively, not qualitatively, the air force is capable of striking in less than 24 hours what once took 33 days to hit,” and qualitatively, the improvement is even greater. Eshel was referring to the 34-day battle with Hezbollah in 2006. As for 2012’s week-long conflict in Gaza, he said it “would take less than 12 hours [today].”
Eshel’s comments come at a time when a budget battle is being waged between the Ministries of Finance and Defense, with the latter insisting cuts risk Israeli lives. One senior defense official told The Times of Israel that if a resolution is not reached soon, the country’s new David’s Sling medium-range missile defense system may not become operational in 2015 as planned. Additionally, the IAF’s weekly flight training for reserve soldiers would be suspended, something which the official deemed a particularly grave situation.
Eshel’s comments reflect the IAF’s role in the army’s increasing shift towards strong firepower instead of boots on the ground. The necessary precision munitions and timely intelligence can be costly.
Eshel went on to speak about the potential threat Israel faces from its northern neighbor, Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon. He claimed Israel would be able to inflict damage that “would take decades to restore. Not one year, not two years and… in scope that is beyond understanding.”
However, he warned that we must not be complacent. Eshel called Israel’s current missile defenses “strategic rather than tactical,” and cautioned they could protect the country’s resources and civilian centers, but did not guarantee everyone’s safety. “The protection is effective but not hermetic,” he said.
While Eshel suspects Hezbollah may get the final shot in a future confrontation with Israel, they will be left to explain to their followers why they provoked such devastation as Israel would inflict.
Addressing concerns that Israel’s northern neighbors have increased the range and precision of their missile attacks, Eshel conceded Air Force bases may be hit. He insisted however, that they would be hobbled only operationally, not strategically. “Those who say the Air Force will be paralyzed – that’s not a professional assertion.”
He called the current period of relative calm “the Era of Fire,” saying, “We do not have the luxury of a month-long war.”