Israel Air Force Chief: Arms Sales to Region Could Erode Israel’s Military Edge

Amir Eshel also says ‘crowded skies’ above Syria ‘could block Israel’s freedom of action’

Israel Air Force chief Amir Eshel speaking at the Herzliya Conference, June 21, 2017.
David Bachar

The Mideast arms deals in recent weeks could cost Israel its air superiority, with the weapons possibly even used against the country, air force chief Amir Eshel said Wednesday.

Eshel, who was speaking at the annual Herzliya Conference, cited $200 billion in arms deals.

“We can’t get up one day and say oops, that isn’t what we thought, that got away from us,” he said. “The price of a mistake on this matter is intolerable.”

Eshel did not specify which weapons deals he was referring to. Saudi Arabia is due to receive arms worth $110 billion from the United States, which has also signed a $12 billion deal to send F-15 fighter jets to Qatar.

Eshel’s remarks were similar to those by Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman last month. “I’m not at peace with the arms race in the Middle East,” Lieberman told Army Radio. “Weapons sales in the region have reached $215 billion and this is no small sum.”

Facing such a challenge, Eshel said Israel needed to rely on its strategic relationship with the United States and its own defense industries. “That’s the key to maintaining our qualitative edge,” he said.

Eshel also referred to Syria, where Russian forces have been present since 2015. In April, a senior Israeli officer admitted that the IAF had destroyed dozens of Syrian missiles that were due to be delivered to Hezbollah.

“How does one maneuver in such crowded skies without unnecessary friction and without causing unnecessary damage?” Eshel said. “This has strategic significance that could block Israel’s freedom of action.”

But Eshel said war with Israel had been avoided because of “the combination of what we’re doing and the results that our enemies know about.”

This week an American fighter jet shot down an Iranian-made, pro-regime drone near Tanf, Syria. The drone was armed and in firing range of U.S. troops, U.S. defense officials said. Meanwhile, Russia announced that its anti-aircraft systems would target any coalition plane venturing west of the Euphrates River.

“As a result of what’s been happening, mainly but not only in Syria, there are many players who have an interest in diminishing the possibility of war between Israel and Hezbollah or others,” Eshel said.