TEL AVIV (Jun. 15)
Israel must “create the greatest possible disruption, whether military or political, in order to prevent the introduction of nuclear weapons” in the Middle East, according to the Israeli air force commander, Maj. Gen. Herzl Bodinger.
Addressing military correspondents on the occasion of Air Force Day, he stressed that this is not the concern of Israel alone. “This is also the need of the world, for the use of such weapons (here) may even bring about a world war.”
He said that Syria, Iraq and Iran all pose a threat to Israel by their missile, conventional and air force buildup.
Asked by Israel Television what he meant by “disruption,” Bodinger said: “I am talking about two different kinds of disruptions, in two channels — international political action, and aggressive action, if needed.”
If an intensive Iranian effort to develop nuclear weapons is not interrupted, the air force commander said, the Islamic nation could achieve nuclear capability by the end of the decade.
Bodinger also said Israel is doing everything possible to avoid friction with Syria. He noted that Israel and Syria have for years maintained a tacit agreement allowing Israeli warplanes to fly over Lebanon without Syrian response.
The Syrians “know very well that we have no hostile intentions against them, and implicitly agreed to these rules of the game,” he said.
Bodinger said this tacit agreement also covered the bombing of Baalbek, in the Lebanese Bekaa valley, close to the Lebanese-Syrian border.
“We are free to act in Lebanon, even if at times our attacks are inaccurate and innocents are killed,” he said.
“The alternative is to send ground forces into Lebanon. They would perform a substantially more thorough job, but at a cost we are unwilling to pay.”
Discussing procurement developments, Bodinger disclosed that the air force will decide by next spring whether it prefers the General Dynamics advanced F-16 or the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet as its jet of the future.
“We traditionally sign a new advanced jet deal every five years. This one will be worth $2 billion, and we are therefore facing a crucial and serious decision.”
He noted that if Israel had not been tied to U.S. military assistance, this country might possibly have looked also at the Soviet-built MiG-29.
The air force would commence test-flying the two U.S. models by next winter, and expects to submit to Israel’s army chief of staff the best evaluation the air force can produce by next spring.