TEL AVIV (Jul. 14)
Gen. Benjamin Peled, commander of Israel’s Air Force, said today that the IAF still enjoys qualitative if not quantitative superiority over all Arab air forces despite the re-equipment of the Syrian Air Force by the Soviet Union to more than its pre-Yom Kippur War strength and the supply to Jordan of new American jets replacing their obsolete British Hunter types.
Addressing a press conference here on the eve of Air Force Day, Peled acknowledged that if the United States supplies Jordan with a $350 million air defense system including 14 batteries of Hawk ground-to-air missiles, the IAF would have to reassess its operational planning. He said the situation would be much better without the American missiles in Jordanian hands but if they are supplied, “we will have to learn to live with them.”
He also expressed belief there was an answer to the Soviet-made SAM-6 and SAM-7 anti-aircraft missiles which took a heavy toll of Israeli planes during the Yom Kippur War. He said the lessons of the 1973 war have been learned and applied by the Air Force and the mistakes made then would not be repeated.
Peled stressed that he was speaking from the purely military–not political–standpoint when, in reply to questions, he commented on the issues of the advance warning radar stations in Sinai and the Israeli air base at Refidim in eastern Sinai, He said that, if under a new interim accord with Egypt, Israel is required to abandon the surveillance posts at Um Khashiba, just north of the Gidi Pass, there would be a substitute but it would be an “ersatz” substitute not as valuable as the original.
NEED FOR GREATER IAF FLEXIBILITY
With regard to the Refidim airfield, which Peled described as a forward air base, he said its future effectiveness would depend upon the location of Israel’s new defense lines under an interim agreement. If the enemy’s new lines are close enough to neutralize the effectiveness of Refidim, steps will have to be taken to secure its functions under the new conditions, Peled said. He did not indicate what those steps might be and did not mention the possible construction of a new air base to replace Refidim.
He said the major problem of the IAF was to increase its flexibility in response to changing situations and always to gain the initiative and force the enemy to respond to Israel’s actions rather than the opposite. He felt that-the IAF could handle any situation that might arise from whatever political decisions are adopted, Peled praised Israel’s new “Kfir” jet interceptor, the first combat plane designed and produced in Israel. He said it was capable of competing with all present and future types of interceptors.