IAF sets new guidelines for reconnaissance flights

Hezbollah building up air defense systems, moving weapons out of Syria; Lebanon tracks weapons shipments destined for Hamas, Hezbollah.

f-15 silent eagle 311 (photo credit: Courtesy Boeing Co.)
f-15 silent eagle 311
(photo credit: Courtesy Boeing Co.)
Due to the ongoing instability in the Arab world, the Israel Air Force has instituted new guidelines for surveillance and reconnaissance flights in the region to minimize the risk that such flights will lead to a military escalation.
Under the new guidelines, only experienced and advanced pilots can fly the reconnaissance flights, which are conducted regularly over Lebanon. In addition, the flights can only be conducted when a senior officer is present in the IAF control room in Tel Aviv. Such flights are usually approved by the IDF Chief of General Staff.
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“We need to consider the effect such flights can have, considering the changes in the region,” a senior officer said this week. “We understand that there is a short distance between a tactical mistake and a larger crisis.”
Israeli flights over Lebanon have been the source of continuous tension between Israel and Lebanon since the end of the Second Lebanon War five years ago. The flights are conducted by manned aircraft such as fighter jets as well as IAF unmanned aerial vehicles. In addition to Lebanon, Israeli aircraft also fly over the Red Sea where they track ships suspected of transferring weaponry to Hamas and Hezbollah.
Israel claims it needs to continue flying over Lebanon to track Hezbollah’s military buildup and particularly the flow of arms from Syria to the Iranian-backed guerrilla group. On Monday, as an example, Lebanese media said six Israeli planes flew over the Bekaa Valley, a known Hezbollah stronghold.
Israel’s concern is not just about the potential diplomatic fallout from such flights and how they could fuel already growing anti-Israel sentiment in the region, but also stems from concern that Hezbollah will receive advanced surface-to-air defense systems.
Media reports recently revealed Hezbollah was transferring advanced high quality weaponry that it had been storing in Syria to Lebanon. The move was made out of concern for the weaponry’s fate in the face of the ongoing unrest in the country and the possibility that President Bashar Assad, the group’s close ally, will be overthrown.
Hezbollah’s air defense systems are believed to have been recently boosted by the arrival last year of a sophisticated radar system to Syria.
The radar is perceived as a significant challenge for Israel’s continued operational freedom and is reportedly believed to be capable of providing Syria with early warning of Israeli sorties.