'IAF only air force to hit 2 reactors'

Peres boasts achievements on pilot graduation day; IAF chief: We're bracing for action on multiple fronts.

peres head shot 224 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
peres head shot 224 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Israel has carried out military strikes against two nuclear sites, President Shimon Peres boasted on Thursday, saying "this is the only air force in the world that has such an achievement." Addressing an IAF pilots graduation ceremony at the Hatzerim base near Beersheba, Peres said, "According to foreign reports, the air force took out two nuclear plants" - an apparent reference to the strike against a Syrian site last September that Israel has not publicy acknowledged, and the Iraqi reactor at Osirak in 1981. On Wednesday, IAF commander Maj.-Gen. Ido Nehushtan said that the air force was preparing for action on multiple fronts, and added that he was unsure where combat would break out first - Gaza or the northern border. "Iran's nuclear program comes from a basic ideology - Iranian nationalism seeks defense, but the regime of the ideology is radical," Nehushtan said during an address to a conference in Herzliya. "In the North, Hizbullah is building up power and learning lessons from the past. The same is happening in Gaza. I can't say which will come first - we have to be ready for both. We have to be very ready." The IAF, he said, "is a key, maybe the sole player in some of the fronts I described." He added that "providing answers to dynamically changing threats and recognizing the future" was vital to national security. "The future will be influenced by what we do - it is not deterministic." When asked to address Israel's missile defense program, Nehushtan said, "We have the Arrow system... Israel invested in active layers of missile defense, which is a direct reply to missile [attacks]. These are [still] in the development stages. Do these systems create a hermetically sealed umbrella? I don't believe so, but when they prevent high percentages of missile strikes on the home front, and as we attack, the other side will understand that its [missile] card has been lost." The subject of the conference was unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), an increasingly important tool at the IAF's disposal. Despite the common use of UAVs in operations over Gaza, Nehushtan said the flying drones had not reached the stage of development where "we can put expensive equipment on board, but their credibility is growing." Brig.-Gen. Gabi Shahor, commander of the Palmahim air force base in the Center of the country, appeared far more enthusiastic about the role of drones in the air force, saying UAVs were swiftly evolving into machines with capabilities reminiscent of science fiction. "There is major progress being made - use your imagination to think of where we are today. I can't talk about everything... [but] some UAVs have been turned into satellites. They can hover in the air for weeks, and cover large areas." He added that there was "no reason not to arm a drone with an air-to-air missile, [as] this is effective for missions," and described the scenario of UAV aerial combat as "fourth-generation warfare." Shahor showed several videos of UAVs in use over Gaza and aiding in strikes on vehicles transporting Kassam rockets. UAVs have dramatically helped bring the number of Palestinian casualties down, Shahor said. "Thanks to UAVs, there is one civilian casualty for every 22 terrorist casualties. We do not want to harm civilians, and the UAVs help us identify bystanders in the area, allowing us to call off an operation," he said. "Imagine what we'll see in the coming decade."