The threat of a conflict suddenly erupting between Israel and its enemies is very real, Israel Air Force chief Maj.-Gen. Amir Eshel warned on Wednesday.

The advanced S-300 Russian air defense system is “on the way to Syria,” he added.

The IDF chief of staff, Lt.- Gen. Benny Gantz, echoed Eshel’s message. The chance of a multi-arena conflict breaking out are “substantial,” he said.

Eshel, addressing a national security conference held by the Fisher Brothers Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies in Herzliya, said that “the Assad regime has invested much to achieve the best air defenses that it could buy,” including the SA-17, SA-22, SA-24 and the S-300 platforms.

“These systems are not only an operational threat.

They also lead to an increased sense of security that can lead states to do things they would not otherwise do. This is a totally different generation of weapons, which does not resemble anything in the past. But there’s no system that has no solution. The question is only the price,” the air force commander said.

Syria is “changing before our eyes. If it collapses tomorrow, we could find its vast arsenal dispersed and pointed at us,” he said.

The threat of a war erupting is “many times more relevant today. A surprise war could be born today in many forms. Lone incidents can escalate very quickly and obligate us to be prepared within hours to act to the edge of the spectrum... meaning using the full abilities of the Israel Air Force,” Eshel said.

“If during the Second Lebanon War [in 2006] we used only a small amount of these capabilities, in the next war we will have to give 100 percent so that our activities will be swift and very powerful,” he warned.

In a future war, the air force will pave a path for the ground forces by carrying out very heavy bombings that will make a ground offensive far easier and faster. The IAF must be the central component in ground maneuvers, and is spending a great deal of time preparing for this, he said.

Also on Wednesday, Gantz spoke to graduates of the IDF Command and Staff College, telling them that the military is at “a significant point on the axis of time, in light of the developing security threats and instability around us.”

The IDF is facing the substantial threat of a multi-arena conflict, he warned.

“We must work in a joined manner, coordinated, and with maximum efficiency to ensure our ability to win quickly in every confrontation, and to win every future war,” the chief of staff said.

Ground maneuvers remain “important and relevant” for the IDF’s ability to secure a victory, Gantz said, adding that “it’s clear that we must strengthen our ability for an offensive maneuver” that will be made up of components such as intelligence, firepower, logistics and teleprocessing.

These should ensure a flexible, swift, deadly ground maneuver, Gantz said.

On Tuesday, Gantz warned President Bashar Assad that he would “bear the consequences” if Syria escalated its attacks on the IDF on the Golan Heights.

The warning came hours after a Syrian army position opened fire on an IDF jeep, lightly damaging it. The IDF opened fire in response, destroying the Syrian position. Channel 2 said three Syrian soldiers were killed in the exchange.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry warned that Western governments are ready to increase support to Assad’s opponents if he rejects a political solution to Syria’s civil war.

Kerry said recent military gains by Assad’s forces were only temporary, and that if the Syrian leader believed the counteroffensives against the rebels would be decisive, “then he is miscalculating.”

Kerry was speaking in Amman before a meeting of the Friends of Syria group of nations – mainly Western and Arab opponents of Assad – trying to pave the way for a US-Russian proposed peace conference to end Syria’s twoyear conflict, in which more than 80,000 people have been killed.

The conference aims to build on last year’s international accord discussed in Geneva that set out plans for a transition of power in Syria but broke down over disagreements about Assad’s role.

“In the event that we can’t find that way forward, in the event that the Assad regime is unwilling to negotiate Geneva 1 in good faith, we will also talk about our continued support and growing support for the opposition, in order to permit them to continue to be able to fight for the freedom of their country,” Kerry told a news conference.

He said several thousand fighters from the Lebanese group Hezbollah were taking part in the Syrian conflict, with active Iranian support on the ground.

“Just last week, obviously, Hezbollah intervened very, very significantly,” Kerry said. “There are several thousands of Hezbollah militia forces on the ground in Syria who are contributing to this violence, and we condemn that.”

Also speaking at the Fisher Brothers Institute conference, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said that despite recent gains against the Syrian rebels by Assad and Hezbollah forces, the regime was in decline.

Assad is “losing Syria,” Ya’alon insisted. “Even if he is projecting confidence recently, this has no link to reality.

“There is a sense that he is charging ahead because of the Russian support, but [the civil war] is not over. It could end suddenly or continue for years as a bloody civil war.

“There are those who are trying to bring weapons systems into the area that are liable to harm our aerial and naval supremacy,” Ya’alon added, “and this must be prevented in a responsible and considered manner.”

He played down the prospect of anyone on the Syrian side starting a war with Israel, “because they understand the heavy price they would pay.”

Ya’alon said the Iranian threat remained number one, adding that Iran has a [military] corps in Lebanon, a corps in Syria, a corps in South America and more... To us it’s clear that for Iran to get nuclear weapons is a nightmare for the world. This has appeared on the global agenda today, but the leadership there [in Iran] is still not convinced that there is determination to go all the way.”

The Iranians believe Israel requires America’s green light to attack, while Hezbollah is preparing itself to respond if Iran is attacked, Ya’alon said.

“This is occurring without a nuclear umbrella. We must understand what would happen if there was such an umbrella, and we’ll do everything to make sure this won’t happen.”

Reuters contributed to this report. •

Please LIKE our Facebook page - it makes us stronger