In first, former air force chief Amir Eshel confirms mass scale of strikes, says over 100 targets struck since 2012
Israel’s former air force chief said Wednesday that it has carried out dozens of airstrikes on weapons convoys destined for the Lebanese Hezbollah group over the past five years.
The remarks by Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel revealed for the first time the scale of the strikes, which are usually neither confirmed or denied by the IAF.
Eshel told the Haaretz newspaper that Israel hit weapons convoys destined for the Iran-backed Hezbollah, which is fighting alongside Syrian forces, almost 100 times since 2012.
Israel has largely stayed out of the fighting during the six-year civil war in neighboring Syria, but has repeatedly said it will act to prevent Hezbollah from acquiring advanced weapons.
Hezbollah fired more than 4,000 rockets on Israeli communities during the 2006 war.
Eshel ended a five year term as commander of the air force on Tuesday. During his tenure, he commanded aerial operations during the 2014 Gaza war, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge, and the 8-day Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza in 2012.
He also oversaw the acquisition of the F-35 stealth fighter jet, the first of which landed in Israel in December 2016. While the Iron Dome missile defense system was declared operational approximately a year before Eshel took his position, the air force chief, who also commands Israel’s anti-aircraft and missile-defense forces, saw the full-scale deployment of the system during two military campaigns and its ongoing development.
Israel has for years been widely believed to have carried out airstrikes on advanced weapons systems in Syria — including Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles and Iranian-made missiles — as well as Hezbollah positions, but it rarely confirms such operations on an individual basis.
In April 2016, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu admitted for the first time that Israel had attacked dozens of convoys transporting weapons in Syria destined for Hezbollah, which fought a 2006 war with Israel and is now battling alongside the Damascus regime.
In May, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said the IDF only carries out raids in Syria for three reasons: when Israel comes under fire, to prevent arms transfers, and to avert a “ticking timebomb,” namely to thwart imminent terror attacks on Israel by groups on its borders.