Those who “sleep with rockets and amass large stockpiles of weapons” in southern Lebanon are “in a very unsafe place,” OC Air Force Maj.-Gen. Amir Eshel said on Wednesday.
Two days earlier, an unexplained explosion tore through the southern Lebanese town of Tair Harfa, damaging a suspected Hezbollah arms depot.
“It is not a secret that Hezbollah is prepared in southern Lebanon, in violation of UN resolutions,” Eshel said, adding that Israel has been clear on the “need to dismantle Hezbollah. The international community is not enforcing the UN resolutions [calling for an arms-free zone in southern Lebanon].”
Speaking from the Tel Nof Air Force Base, near Rehovot, Eshel gave an overview of the past year, and looked ahead to regional threats that the IAF would face in 2013.
“We are studying the challenges in an in-depth manner, and are preparing answers to them,” he said.
The air force chief described 2012 as “a year of intensive and varied achievement on all fronts.”
Last month’s conflict with Hamas in Gaza “was an operation, not a war,” Eshel said.
“We are drawing lessons from it... The Israel Air Force performed well, defensively and offensively.”
While praising the Iron Dome missile defense system as a superb technological achievement, Eshel said that “there is no perfect defense,” adding that a future conflict would involve many more rocket attacks on Israel.
“No one can guarantee that more rockets won’t fall,” he said. “The Israel Air Force’s aim will be to bring the conflict to a rapid close.”
An impenetrable wall of defense does not exist anywhere in the world, he warned, noting that the recent Gaza conflict was minor in scale compared to the tests the Israel Air Force is expecting in the future.
“The enemy will not make the next test easy. Our goal will be to win, and to do so quickly,” the air force chief said.
While deterrence was a difficult thing to measure precisely, Operation Pillar of Defense should serve as “a warning sign to the other side,” he added.
Turning his attention to Syria, Eshel said that country was falling apart rapidly, and that the disintegration presented a host of security threats that were “very, very close to Israel.”
Damascus “has stockpiles of advanced weapons, including unconventional weapons,” Eshel noted. “We don’t know what will happen the day after Assad falls. We are preparing ourselves for this, and for the eventuality of weapons flowing out of Syria.”
Addressing Iran, the air force chief said, “This is a very complex issue that has been accompanying us for many years. We are working on our capabilities. There’s no doubt that Iran is continuing to make progress in its nuclear project. Our role as the IDF is to create operational space, so that there really are options on the table. We’ve been working on this for many years.”
Eshel also commented on the Hezbollah drone incident in October, in which a small unmanned vehicle entered Israeli airspace before being shot down in the South.
“The threat of drones is not new,” Eshel said, describing the incident as “a provocation by Hezbollah.”
“The drone did not complete its mission,” he added.
“We met the operational challenge, though there is room for improvement.”