Analysis: IAF preparing surprises for enemies

Upgrades to fighter jets creating operational capabilities that would have been considered fantasy years ago.

IAF F15 fighter jet 311 (R) (photo credit: Baz Ratner / Reuters)
IAF F15 fighter jet 311 (R)
(photo credit: Baz Ratner / Reuters)
Here's a fact that helps illustrate the scope of the transformation washing over the Israel Air Force these days. During Operation Pillar of Defense last month, the air force struck 1,500 targets throughout Gaza over the course of eight days. Had it chosen to, however, it could have struck the same number of targets in 24 hours.
Technological upgrades to weapons systems in fighter jets are creating new operational capabilities, which would have been seen as borderline fantasy just 15 years ago.
As a senior Air Force official stated on Tuesday, a single aircraft can now strike four different targets far away, with the push of one button, meaning that fewer sorties are required to level heavy damage on the enemy. The strike capabilities of several aircraft in the past are now possessed by a single warplane.
What all of this means is that the IAF is pushing ahead with its strategic assumption that offense, rather than defense, will be the decisive factor in the next confrontation, in which Hezbollah and its considerable arsenal of rockets may well be involved.
The defense source noted that no matter how effective the active defense systems like Iron Dome are, continuous rocket attacks during a conflict mean that the public still has to run for cover during every siren. It is untenable for millions of people to live by the dictates of rocket launchers sending them to shelters for long periods of time.
Furthermore, the source argued, Israel cannot pour vast amounts of money into defensive systems indefinitely. While active defense systems are vital, and have a direct bearing on offensive attacks, they cannot form the main reply to rocket threats, he said.
Hence, the IAF is sticking to the Ben Gurionesque doctrine of causing massive damage to the enemy and bringing the conflict to an end rapidly. Unfortunately, Ben Gurion's principle of taking the fight to enemy territory can only be partially achieved these days, with the Israeli home front under a heavy rocket threat.
But short spells of fighting can be achieved, through hitting the other side hard - far harder than the damage Hamas absorbed in November. "The Lebanese case will be very different," the source said. "It will be far more intensive." The source warned that the era of 'knockout victories,' in which enemies raise a white flag and surrender, has long passed. In any future conflict, rockets will be fired into Israel until the last day of the conflict. But afterwards, Hezbollah will have to "get up in the morning and explain to their people why they brought destruction to Lebanon," the source said.
That's what happened to Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah in the 2006 Second Lebanon War, which, despite its many shortcomings, caused such damage to southern Lebanon that Nasrallah has still not been able to repair all of it, six and a half years on. In any future clash, the damage will likely be far more extensive.
What then, would be the IAF's future targets in a conflict with Hezbollah? The list would include the large weapons stockpiles scattered throughout south Lebanese villages and towns, which have been logged and mapped by Israeli intelligence agencies.
Hezbollah assets in urban centers, those buried underground, and various posts are all likely listed in the air force's bank of targets. The difference this time around lies in the IAF's increased abilities to strike them.
Despite the upgraded offense in place, in such a future conflict, the home front will be far more susceptible to rocket fire than it was in November. Whole buildings may be knocked down by large, incoming projectiles during the fighting.
If the Air Force has its way, however, potential future conflicts will be short, and followed by long spells of calm.