With many squadrons in the IAF, the best stories can be found in the
Located almost always next to the fortified operations room,
the clubhouse is where the squadron’s pilots and navigators go to relax, watch a
movie, play a video game or just kick back and read a book.
couches and pool tables, though, the clubhouse is also where the squadron hangs
memorabilia, like pictures of aircraft flying over places like Masada or plaques
for enemy planes that squadron fighter jets shot down.
clubhouse at the Ramat David Air Force Base in the Jezreel Valley is in a class
Referred to as the “Knights of the North,” the squadron’s
pilots participated in two historic missions. The first can be found on a plaque
in the clubhouse marking the interception of a Hezbollah-operated drone during
the Second Lebanon War.
Called Ababil, the Iranian-made drone was
suspected of carrying explosives.
It was shot down by an F-16 fighter jet
from the squadron with an air-to-air missile over the Mediterranean Sea, off the
coast of Haifa, in August 2006.
The second operation is memorialized by a
large painting that hangs in the clubhouse and shows an F-16 dropping a
GPS-guided bomb over a piece of land marked by a number of small
The painting was given to the squadron by its former
commander following the Second Lebanon War, in honor of six of its jets having
participated in the remarkable operation, on the first night of the war, that
destroyed Hezbollah’s arsenal of medium- range rockets.
On Sunday, IAF
commander Maj.- Gen. Ido Nehushtan visited the squadron and participated in a
simulated dogfight with some of its pilots.
Nehushtan tries to fly at
least once a month with different squadrons. It is his way of getting to know
the junior pilots and staying up to date on new maneuvers and
Sitting in the briefing room before the flight, Nehushtan is like
any of the other pilots in the squadron. He sits and listens attentively to a
young captain explain the guidelines for the flight and how to use some of the
jet’s new targeting systems.
WHILE SQUADRON 110 is just one of the IAF’s
many combat units, its achievements are a reminder of the type of challenges the
air force will face in a future war with Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria or
On the one hand, it will need to work to destroy as many rockets
and launchers as it can at the outset of the war, which will of course be the
direct result of the quality of intelligence the IDF can provide. On the other
hand, it will also face enemies whose capabilities range from Syrian and Iranian
fighter jets and ballistic missiles to Hezbollah rockets and armed
For this reason, Nehushtan likes to use his multifocal glasses as a
metaphor for the way the IAF needs to look at the Middle East. Through one lens,
Nehushtan sees the threats close to home, like Hezbollah and Hamas; through the
other lens, he sees the threats that are far away, like Iran. And for all of
them, he needs to ensure that the IAF has an appropriate response.
May, Nehushtan will step down after four years in the post. His replacement has
yet to be selected, and a tough race is expected between two former deputy IAF
commanders – Maj.- Gen. Amir Eshel, who currently serves as head of the IDF’s
Planning Directorate, and Maj.-Gen. Yohanan Locker, who currently serves as the
prime minister’s military secretary.
Until then, though, Nehushtan has
his hands full setting the IAF’s budget for the incoming multi-year plan that
will go into effect in January, and preparing for a number of possible
conflicts, some on multiple fronts.
Alongside Operation Cast Lead, one of
the highlights of Nehushtan’s term, he will also be remembered as the IAF
commander who succeeded in closing the country’s first F-35 contract, and
possibly even more for laying out a road map to prepare for the uncertainty that
has settled over the Middle East.
The ongoing upheaval in Egypt and Syria
is part of that uncertainty, as is the entry of new advanced aircraft to the
region – F-16s were delivered recently to Jordan, and Iraq has announced plans
to purchase 36 such planes.
No one really knows what will ultimately
happen in Egypt, whether Bashar Assad’s regime will fall or survive in Syria, or
whether Iraq will one day go back to being an enemy of the State of Israel. That
is why the real challenge right now is how to prepare for all of these possibilities , what new platforms to invest in and at what risk.
HIS talks with pilots, Nehushtan points to four key principles by which the IAF
needs to abide at all times, but particularly in a period of
The first is the need to boost the country’s deterrence,
made up of three separate elements – what capabilities Israel’s enemies think it
has, what capabilities they know it has, and how determined they think it is to
For this reason and despite some criticism, Nehushtan has
thrown his full support behind the purchase of the F- 35 Joint Strike Fighter.
He believes that the arrival of the stealth and fifth-generation plane –
expected by 2017 –will boost the IDF’s deterrence, as happened when the
country’s first batch of F-15s arrived in the 1970s.
The second principle
is the need for accurate intelligence. This is viewed as critical today,
particularly in a period of uncertainty. While war might not appear to be on the
immediate horizon, the IAF needs to prepare its target banks, which IDF officers
say have grown significantly in recent years.
The third principle is the
type of decisive force the IAF is capable of bringing to the
This was demonstrated by that operation on the first night
of the Second Lebanon War, when the IAF struck at more than 90 targets – all of
the guerrilla group’s medium-range missiles – in just 36 minutes, and again on
the first day of Operation Cast Lead, when more than 110 aircraft dropped over
100 tons of explosives on more than 100 targets in just a few
“This is key, but is also a major challenge, since ideally we
would want this type of capability on all of the different fronts we face,” a
senior IAF officer explained this week.
The final principle has to do
with defense. Here, the IAF also plays a key role in the development and
operation of the various missile defense systems currently deployed throughout
the country, including the Arrow, the Patriot and the Iron Dome. By 2015, the
IAF will have two more layers with the deployment of the Arrow-3 and David’s
In order to prepare for the changes in the region, the IAF under
Nehushtan believes it also needs to increase the number of squadrons and fighter
jets it currently operates. This possibility is currently under debate within
the defense establishment and is sitting on the defense minister’s and prime
minister’s desks, waiting for a decision.