Israel needs to make every effort to stop the S-300 missile defense system from reaching countries where the air force may need to fly, IAF commander Maj.-Gen. Ido Nehushtan has told The Jerusalem Post in an exclusive interview.
"The S-300 is a Russian-made surface-to-air missile system that is very advanced, with long ranges and many capabilities," Nehushtan told the Post in the interview, which appears in our Friday Magazine.
"We need to make every effort to stop this system from getting to places where the IAF needs to operate or may need to operate in the future," he said.
The S-300 is one of the most advanced multi-target antiaircraft missile systems in the world and has a reported ability to track up to 100 targets simultaneously while engaging up to 12 at the same time. It has a range of about 200 km. and can hit targets at altitudes of 90,000 feet.
While Russia and Iran signed a deal for the sale of the system several years ago, according to latest assessments in Israel, it has yet to be delivered.
Last week, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made a secret visit to Moscow for talks, which according to some news reports focused on the possible sale of the S-300 to Iran.
Earlier in the month, reports surfaced that the Mossad was involved in the interception of the missing Arctic Sea cargo ship in August. According to some versions, the ship was carrying S-300 missiles destined for Iran.
In the interview, Nehushtan offered a fierce defense of Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip in December 2008 and January 2009.
He defended Israel's opening bombardment, including the attack on Hamas policemen, which the UN's Richard Goldstone-led fact-finding mission this week branded a violation of international law.
"We need to look at Hamas from top to bottom," Nehushtan said, in answer to a question about the legitimacy of targeting Hamas police forces. "Look at the way they [Hamas] killed Fatah. Who do you think did that? This is how they killed their own people. We need to disconnect from traditional military concepts and understand that Hamas doesn't work that way. They don't come in uniforms or in tanks to a battlefield."
No other military in the world, Nehushtan said, was as careful as Israel's when operating in a densely-populated urban setting.
"This was demonstrated by our accuracy as well as [by] the attention we gave to every single target, with exact planning to prevent collateral damage, even by calling the people there to let them leave their homes, which in some cases were storehouses for weapons," the air force chief said. "We then kept our eye on the homes and ensured that they left. We gave this service and only then attacked."
While vague in his answers on the Iranian threat, Nehushtan said Israel "retains the right to defend itself" and that "ultimately, the job of the IAF is to provide security for the State of Israel and we know how to do this."
Israel, he said, preferred that the Iranian issue be handled by the international community. "We would be happy if these efforts are successful," he said.
The sense of urgency regarding the S-300 was mentioned earlier this week in a report on the Iranian threat published by the Bipartisan Policy Center and called "Meeting the Challenge - Time is Running Out."
Authored by two former US senators and the former deputy head of the US Military European Command - whose geographic area of responsibility includes Israel - the report warned that Israel might attack in one of two scenarios.
"Should we [the US] fail to act decisively to curtail Iran's nuclear program in the near-term, or if it appears likely that Iran is about to obtain game-changing military technology - such as Russia's S-300 anti-aircraft system - Israel, more likely than not, will act on its own," the authors wrote.