Israeli Air Force Commander: We are Prepared to Counter All Threats

Nehushtan says 2011 is a "critical year" for stopping Iran's nuclear program; "We are always tracking what is happening around us so we can be ready"; comments follow weekly training flight in South.

The Israeli Air Force is prepared to counter all of the threats and challenges that Israel currently faces including those from Iran, Israeli Air Force commander Maj.-Gen. Ido Nehushtan said on Tuesday amid predictions that 2011 is a “critical year” for stopping the Islamic Republic’s race to develop a nuclear weapon.

“The IAF has an important job to be prepared for anything it might be required to do,” Nehushtan told reporters during a briefing at the Ramon Air Force Base in the South. “We are always tracking what is happening around us so we can be ready.”

Nehushtan was at Ramon for his weekly training flight like all IAF pilots in active service and the reserves who are required to fly at least once a week. His flight on Tuesday was in a F-16I – called “Sufa” (Storm) in the IAF – which he flew in a dogfight training scenario against another aircraft.

The IAF’s greatest challenge, he said, was the military buildup on all of Israel’s different fronts – by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Hizbullah in Lebanon and in Syria and Iran.

“We prepare for the different scenarios on a daily basis by analyzing the different fronts and thinking what the IAF can do to counter each one,” he said.

Asked about the recent announcement that the United States was selling $60 billion worth of military systems including over 80 F-15 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia and its effect on Israel, Nehushtan said that the IDF’s job was to ensure that it retained a qualitative military edge in the region. In October, Israel signed a $2.75 billion deal to purchase 20 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, a fifth-generation stealth fighter jet.

“A guiding principle for the IAF has been to ensure that we have a qualitative edge,” he said. “To do this, we rely on our people who provide us with that edge as well as ensuring that we receive the most advanced planes and systems that exist.”

Nehushtan referred to Hamas and Hizbullah’s military buildup and the possibility that in a future, war missiles will land in IAF bases throughout the country.

“There have been developments in the amount of missiles and rockets that are in our enemies’ hands,” he said. “We assume that in the future, IAF bases will be a target. We are aware of this and are preparing accordingly.”

At the Hatzor IAF base, for example, airmen have carried out 25 drills since the beginning of the year, compared to just 12 last year. The drills vary and include scenarios that involve missile attacks on the base’s runway, living quarters and plane storage facilities.

During Operation Cast Lead last year, a number of rockets were fired in the direction of Hatzor, which is located near Gedera, as well as at Hatzerim, near Beersheba. During the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Hizbullah also tried to target the Ramat David base in the north.

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