Amir Eshel to be next IAF commander

Chief of Staff Benny Gantz appoints Eshel, known for 2003 Auschwitz flyover, to be Air Force chief.

February 5, 2012 16:24
1 minute read.
Illustrative photo: F-15 Silent Eagle

f-15 silent eagle 311. (photo credit: Courtesy Boeing Co.)


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IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz decided on Sunday to appoint Maj.-Gen. Amir Eshel as the next commander of the Israel Air Force. The appointment was approved by Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

Eshel, who currently serves as head of the IDF Planning Directorate, will replace Maj.- Gen. Ido Nehushtan, who will step down in April after four years in the post.

The appointment of the next IAF commander has been surrounded by controversy in recent weeks amid reports that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was pressuring Gantz to tap his military adviser, Maj.-Gen. Yohanan Locker, a former deputy IAF commander, for the position.

The appointment of a new air force chief traditionally makes headlines, but this time it is particularly intriguing due to the possibility that the government will order the next commander to oversee a strike on Iran’s well-protected and distant nuclear infrastructure.

Eshel served as deputy commander of the IAF from 2006 to 2008 under Maj.-Gen. Eliezer Shkedy. Before that, he was head of the IAF’s Air Wing, commander of the Tel Nof air base and head of the IAF Operations Division. Locker is said to be a candidate to replace Eshel or serve as the IDF attaché to the United States.

The father of three and a graduate of Auburn University in Alabama and the Israeli National Defense College, Eshel volunteered for flight training in 1977. After graduating from the prestigious and arduous course, he quickly climbed the ranks.

He flew A-4 Skyhawks during the first Lebanon War and later became commander of an F-4 Phantom squadron. Eshel became renowned for the IAF’s 2003 Auschwitz flyover.

Within the IDF, he has enjoyed the respect of his counterparts for his close-to three decades of service, during which he spearheaded a revolutionary improvement in the level of inter-operability between the IAF and ground forces.

Eshel recently voiced concern over the possible consequences of Iran’s success in obtaining a nuclear weapon, claiming it would severely impair Israel’s operational freedom. He also warned of the possibility that Syria’s chemical weapons would be obtained by terrorist groups like Hezbollah.

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