TEL AVIV (Aug. 6)
Gen. David Ivri, commander of the Israel Air Force, said that the readiness of Israel’s air defense arm has not been affected by severe budget cuts which have, among other things reduced the flying hours of Israeli pilots.
In a recent report, Ivri cited the strength and efficiency of the Air Force. At the same time, he warned of the growing air combat and defense systems of Israel’s enemies on the eastern front.
Ivri disclosed that the Air Force has made operational the Hughes M.D.-500 helicopter which has been put into service this year as an anti-tank weapon. He said this serves to close the armor gap between Israel and its eastern front foes whose combined tank force is larger than Israel’s. The American-made helicopter carries four “tank killer” missiles on its fuselage and costs one-third the price of the Cobra helicopter.
ABSORBING AMERICAN JETS
Ivri said the Air Force can compliment itself for the speed with which it absorbed the American F-16 jets, almost 18 months ahead of schedule. This was necessary because the cancellation of orders by Iran allowed the planes’ manufacturer, the General Dynamics Corp., to deliver the F-16s to Israel earlier than planned.
Israel also plans to replace its Kfir jet interceptors, designed and manufactured by Israel Aircraft Industries, with a second generation Israel-made plane, the Lavie, in years to come.
The Air Force has been engaged in several large-scale operations during the past year. These include partial evacuation of the Sinai airfields, redeployment at existing airfields in Israel and preparations to take over the three new air bases being built in the Negev, two financed by the U.S., which will become operational when Israel completes its evacuation from Sinai by the end of next year.
The Air Force also saw combat action last year when in June and September, 1979, it engaged in skirmishes with Syrian aircraft over Lebanon and shot down nine Syrian MIG-21s.
CHALLENGE FROM HOSTILE NEIGHBORS
But, according to Ivri, Israel still faces a challenge from its hostile neighbors. He said that Syria has greatly increased its air force and its anti-aircraft defenses. Its anti-aircraft batteries are triple the size they were at the time of the Yom Kippur War and Syria also has heavy transport planes, provided by the Soviet Union.
In Ivri’s view, Jordan has become the main threat in the air. Its air force has been re-equipped with modern planes and it has an infrastructure of airfields, some still under construction. One is apposite the Araba section of the Negev and the other opposite the Dead Sea.
Jordan also has a large number of improved Hawk anti-aircraft missiles which may give it a sense of security, Ivri said. It has a contract with France for additional missiles of various types. Iraq, the third confrontation state, is also beefing up its air force.