Facing multiple enemies on multiple fronts, the Israel Air Force has carried out more than a thousand airstrikes over the past five years, hitting targets near and far from Israel’s borders in order to protect the country.
With a rapidly changing region and new threats emerging from state and non-state actors, the Air Force has been required to conduct extensive operational activities to ward off various threats.
Under the command of outgoing IAF Commander Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin, the IAF over the past five years has struck 1,200 targets with over 5,500 munitions during 408 missions.
In 2021 alone, dozens of aerial operations were carried out, with 586 munitions used against 174 targets. In addition, 239 anti-aircraft missiles were also fired toward Israeli jets during operations as part of Israel’s war-between-wars campaign.
Those campaigns were meant to prevent Iran from entrenching on Israel’s northern borders and smuggling advanced weaponry to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The Syrian Arab Army is equipped with a range of older Russian-made surface-to-air missile systems such as the SA-2, SA-3, SA-5, SA-6,-SA-8, SA-11, SA-17, SA-19, SA-22, and Pantsir 1 air defense systems
Both Russia and Iran have also deployed advanced air defense systems to the country, including the S-300 and S-400, making Syria the country with the most air defenses in the world.
While the S-300 and S-400s have not been used, and only one S-300 battery is in the hands of the SAA while the others remain under Russian command, the IAF believes that if Russia deploy additional advanced batteries, they should be destroyed before they can be used against Israeli jets.
Though the response time by Syrian SAMs to Israeli operations has become quicker, with the firing of over a thousand missiles toward Israeli jets in the past seven years, they have been unable to stop them from carrying out their missions.
The deployment of Iranian batteries to the arena is an attempt to intercept more Israeli munitions than before, which has lead to the IAF changing how it acts during operations.
That includes having larger formations, so that more targets can be struck at once rather than having jets return to the same target and risk being downed.
In 2018, an F-16 crashed in northern Israel after it was struck by an SA-5 missile fired by Syrian forces during an Israeli operation.
Syrian missiles have also landed in Israel in recent years, including this year, when shrapnel from one missile hit northern Tel Aviv, and another errant interceptor missile landed close to the Dimona nuclear site in the Negev.
Nevertheless, a large majority of anti-aircraft missiles that have targeted IAF jets and munitions miss their targets.
The Hamas-run Gaza Strip continues to pose a threat to Israel. Close to 99% of all the IDF’s operational activity in the blockaded enclave is carried out from the air.
Over the past five years, dozens of rounds of violent conflict broke out between Israel and terror groups in the Strip including two large-scale operations – Operation Black Belt and Operation Guardian of the Walls – and thousands of rockets were fired from Gaza.
In May 2019, some 700 rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip killing four Israeli civilians – the highest number killed since the 2014 war. During the fighting, dubbed “Closed Garden,” the IAF carried out targeted strikes against Hamas operatives, also the first time since 2014. A total of 16 Palestinians were killed during the fighting.
Several months later, in November 2019, Israel’s military took out Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Baha Abu al-Ata, whom they accused of destabilizing the Gaza Strip leading to Operation Black Belt against Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
PIJ, the second-most powerful group in Gaza, had been left relatively unscathed by Israeli airstrikes until recently, and is therefore estimated to have 8,000 rockets (more than Hamas) and a fighting force of 9,000 men, with another 6,000 fighters. It fired close to 400 rockets in 50 hours during the fighting.
During the fighting, the IAF struck 25 PIJ operatives and about 100 military infrastructure targets including weapon production complexes.
While 11 Palestinian civilians, including several children, were killed in the two-day operation, the IDF stressed that precision airstrikes reduced the number of civilian casualties and stopped the PIJ operatives from carrying out their attacks in real time.
Two years later, Hamas fired seven rockets toward Jerusalem leading to the 11-day Operation Guardian of the Walls that saw over 4,000 rockets and mortars fired from the coastal enclave in May alone. The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted not only 90% of all projectiles, but also for the first time downed four drones that Hamas launched toward Israel.
A total of 12 Israeli civilians and one soldier were killed, and 243 Palestinians were killed during the two-week conflict.
The military believes that in addition to the accuracy of the strikes, the scope and quick attack were possible during the operation due to precision planning, and the use of artificial intelligence and other advanced technology used for the first time by the IAF, Southern Command and Gaza Division.
The threat posed by drones has been steadily increasing in recent years, and the IAF has marked them as one of the top five threats facing the corps. In addition to the drones flown into Israel from Gaza, Iran’s proxy Hezbollah is believed to have some 2,000 drones.
Since 2018, there have been at least five attempted drone infiltrations by Iran thwarted by the IAF. They were downed by the Iron Dome, Apache helicopters and F-35s.
Israel’s military has understood the threat posed by such systems for several years. The phenomenon has only increased, with Iranian proxies like the Houthis in Yemen also using unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to carry out attacks against countries in the region.
Iran has been building its UAS fleet since 1984, and not only does it has a significant range of over 3,000 km., but it has very advanced development and operational capabilities, making it a challenge for the IAF and the military’s aerial defenses to identify and intercept it.