AWACS 88 idf.
(photo credit: IDF)
On Monday, a jet took off from Savannah, Georgia, and set its coordinates for Ben-Gurion International Airport outside of Tel Aviv. Stopping on the way to refuel in Canada and Ireland, the jet looked like any other Gulfstream G550, known as one of the most luxurious business jets in the world and price listed at around $50 million.
But the jet was no ordinary business airliner, and it was being flown not by a wealthy businessman, but by an Israel Air Force pilot. It was heading to a welcoming ceremony in Israel, to be inaugurated as the IAF's first Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) plane in 14 years.
During the ceremony, IAF Commander Maj.-Gen. Elazar Shkedy hinted at a connection between the plane's arrival and the nuclear threat emanating from Iran. Speaking of an "existential threat" looming in the Islamic Republic, Shkedy said the new AWACS was an essential operational tool that would be utilized to create aerial pictures deep inside enemy territory, and serve as a warning system for incoming aerial threats, such as Iranian ballistic missiles.
At about the same time the plane took off from Savannah, presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers from around the world were gathering in New York City to participate in the United Nations General Assembly. Several pressing issues were on their agenda, including Iran's nuclear ambitions. While sanctions have yet to be imposed on Iran, the Security Council has demanded that Teheran stop enriching uranium, and stated that if it doesn't, it will face tough economic restrictions.
THIS IS is Israel's current paradoxical situation: receiving new top-tier spy planes that can be used for long-range attacks against countries like Iran on the one hand, and simultaneously pushing for a diplomatic solution to what officials are calling "Israel's greatest existential threat."
In public, Israeli officials give their backing to the diplomatic efforts led by the United States to stop Iran. But behind closed doors, more and more voices are beginning to be heard expressing the possibility of Israel's having to "go at it alone" to prevent the Islamic Republic from obtaining nuclear power.
Militarily, Israel has already proven itself with the 1981 bombing of the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq. While acknowledging that an attack on Iran's scattered nuclear sites would be more difficult, experts say it is not unrealistic.
Israel's preparations for a possible attack on Iran are under way. Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz recently appointed Shkedy head of the "Iranian Front."
Shkedy was chosen for the job because if the mission is indeed given the green light, it will fall on the IAF, most probably on its F-15 and F-16 fighter jet squadrons.
According to Time magazine, the IAF has been conducting major aerial refueling training with its fighter jets in preparation for a massive airstrike on Iran's nuclear sites.
In addition to the AWACS, Israel has been busy procuring other advanced military platforms. The Jerusalem Post revealed last month that Israel had recently signed a deal with Germany to buy two Dolphin-class submarines that, according to foreign reports, will provide superior second-strike nuclear capabilities. The IAF is also expressing new-found interest in the F-22 stealth bomber, priced at $150 million and, according to defense sources, capable of flying straight into downtown Teheran without anyone even knowing about it.
In addition to airstrikes on Iranian facilities, the IAF would also need to target Teheran's long-range missiles, including the deadly Shihab-3, capable of carrying a 650-kg warhead and of hitting targets within a 1,600-km range. (Iran also has chemical weapons that could be placed on its missiles.)
What is certain is that if Israel does decide to take the military route, it will have to succeed in hitting the facilities hard enough to set back Iran's nuclear program for at least several years.
BUT NOT everyone within the defense establishment is of the opinion that Israel should attack Iran. Some senior officials maintain that Israel could continue existing and operating under a nuclear Iran. For that to be viable, however, Israel needs to improve its level of deterrence - something now in question due to its poor performance during the war in Lebanon.
"We will need to threaten the Iranians that we will destroy their entire country if they even try and drop a single nuclear bomb on Israel," said one official, adding that Israel might also reconsider its policy of ambiguity regarding its own nuclear capabilities.
If Israel does attack Iran, the price will be steep. Iran will certainly retaliate with conventional and possibly non-conventional weapons. It may also order Hizbullah to unleash another round of terror attacks and light up the northern border with Katyusha rockets.
This explains the call this week by OC Home Front Command (HFC) Maj.-Gen. Yitzhak Gershon for the establishment of a National Emergency Administration. Following the war in Lebanon - during which close to 4,000 missiles were fired at the North - the defense establishment realized that Israel was facing a major threat from enemy ballistic missiles.
"The other side is investing all of its resources in developing missiles," a high-ranking IAF officer said this week. "We therefore need to provide answers to deal with this threat offensively and defensively, once the missiles are already launched."
As was reported in the Post this week, since the war in Lebanon, the HFC has shifted its focus, and is now investing most of its efforts in confronting the threat of weapons of mass destruction.
Technological advances and acquisitions aside, the HFC will need to begin getting the country ready to "absorb" the Iranian rain that, in the event of a military strike against Iran's nuclear sites, would come pouring down on Israel.