Israel's air force gets ready for a blitz

Dec. 20, 2012 at 2:49 PM
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TEL AVIV, Israel, Dec. 20 (UPI) -- Israel's air force, the Jewish state's strike arm, was reported Thursday to be planning massive, pulverizing strikes against foes who bombard the country with missiles.

That means switching from the recent focus on passive defense with anti-missile systems developed at great cost and hefty U.S. funding, to Israel's long-held military doctrine of large-scale offensive operations, taking the fight to the enemy.

Lebanon beware. The most direct threat comes from there these days.

Hezbollah, the most powerful force in Lebanon and ally of Iran and the beleaguered regime in war-torn Syria, is believed to possess more than 43,000 rockets and missiles, including hundreds able to wreak havoc on Israel's population centers and strategic installations.

The Shiite organization and Israel's military fought an inconclusive 34-day war in the summer of 2006. Hezbollah won on points but for both sides that conflict along Israel's northern border remains unfinished business.

The Jerusalem Post reported Thursday that the Israeli air force, the most powerful in the Middle East, "is pushing ahead with its strategic assumption that offense, rather than defense, will be the decisive factor in the next confrontation, in which Hezbollah and its considerable arsenal of rockets may well be involved."

During the 2006 war, Israeli warplanes systematically blasted Hezbollah's missile depots, command centers and its stronghold in south Beirut known as the Dahiyeh, where Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah supposedly had his nerve center.

Much of the district was obliterated in the Israeli blitz, which lasted for virtually the entire war.

The quarter has been rebuilt but the Israelis have repeatedly warned since then they'll flatten it again if Hezbollah unleashes its missile power.

The Israelis call this strategy "the Dahiyeh Doctrine."

The officer closely identified with this plan, Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, a veteran of the 2006 war who became commander of Israel's northern front, was named deputy Chief of Staff Monday.

During the 2006 war, despite intense Israeli airstrikes, Hezbollah fired nearly 4,000 rockets and missiles into northern Israel in an unprecedented barrage that was sustained right up to the U.N.-brokered cease-fire that halted hostilities.

Next time around, with Hezbollah owning four times as many missiles and immensely greater destructive potential, Israeli planners fear cities and towns could be bombarded non-stop for weeks, with casualties infinitely higher than the couple of dozen killed by rockets in 2006.

Israeli air power was unleashed again in November during an eight-day battle with Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, who fired some 1,400 rockets at Israel.

Airstrikes reportedly knocked out several hundred on the ground in a ferocious blitz in which 1,500 targets were hit, using precision-guided weapons not available in 2006.

The strikes reportedly destroyed more missiles than were shot down by the air force's five batteries of the Iron Dome system, a unique system developed by Israel to counter the short-range rocket menace.

Iron Dome notched an impressive 84.6 percent kill rate for the rockets it engaged.

Many Israelis say the focus on Iron Dome, and other counter-missile systems, since 2006 has diverted precious funds and military doctrine away from more strategic offensive systems -- and David Ben Gurion's seminal directive of taking the fight to the enemy to wage short, sharp wars on his turf, not Israel's.

Now, wrote Post Defense Correspondent Yaakov Lappin, the air force's strike capabilities are so great it could have hit the 1,500 targets it blasted Nov. 14-21 "in 24 hours" had it chosen to do so.

"Technological upgrades to weapons systems in fighter jets are creating new operational capabilities, which would have been seen as bordering on fantasy just 15 years ago," Lappin observed.

This smacks to some extent of saber-rattling to discourage rocket attacks on Israel, whether by Hezbollah and Hamas or Iran and Syria.

But, says Lappin, a single Israeli warplane can now hit four targets simultaneously at one push of a button.

He doesn't explain how, but observed that "fewer sorties are required to level heavy damage on the enemy.

"The strike capabilities of several aircraft in the past are now possessed by a single warplane."

If November's Operation Pillar of Defense was considered devastating, an air force offensive against Hezbollah will be more so, Lappin wrote.

"The Lebanese case will be very different," a senior officer said. "It will be far more intensive."

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