Israel’s security elite is divided between a class that fears the adverse effect of Russia’s military intervention in Syria and those who see it as the answer to the threats to the nation emanating from the north.
Israeli Air Force Chief of Staff Brig. Gen. Tal Kalman stepped into the controversy this week by laying out the following doctrine in a lecture in Tel Aviv.
“The IAF aims for maximum independence,” he said. The friend of today could change his tune tomorrow. Israel must act independently of foreign sources in air and space. “Space is Israel’s strategic depth,” he said. “It saves the [qualitative] edge of its army and air force from shrinking in relation to its enemies.”
Brig. Kalman emphasized the air force’s importance as the dominant component of Israel’s security and deterrent strength by the following points:
- The IAF stand ready at all times for any contingencies. It is first to arrive at the scene of a conflict and is on 12-hour notice for full-scale war.
- The IAF conducts clandestine operations day by day – “a war between wars” – to avert armed aggression.
- The IAF can conduct thousands of sorties in a 24-hour period anywhere, at any time. By comparison, Russia is conducting 300 sorties a day in Syria, and the US 100 a day against ISIS in Iraq and Sryia.
DEBKA Weekly’s military sources say that the brigadier general’s treatise bared the concern among the IDF’s top Military Intelligence (MI) and Air Force officers over the growing popularity of Russian military operations in Syria among some high-ranking IDF officers and senior defense officials.
There are two main schools affected by this “Russification:”
1. A group of generals, who hold up the Russian operation in Syria as the panacea for Israel’s security problems on its northern borders. Among them are two former national security advisers, whose opinions are valued by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon.
2. Officers who maintain that so long as the Russians cooperate with US military and intelligence networks, their presence in Syria is an asset for Israel’s security.
A third group of high-ranking officers, including the Military Intelligence (MI) chief Maj. Gen. Hertzi Halevi, and IAF commander, Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, takes the opposite view.
They are deeply apprehensive of the outcome of Russian intervention in Syria and its endorsement by the Obama administration, urging the IDF, and especially the Air force and Navy, to develop operational capabilities that are independent of Moscow and Washington alike.
Their arguments were borne out strongly this week, DEBKA Weekly’s military sources report, by Russia’s actions in Syria.
A. The Russian air force launched hundreds of sorties to purge the Syrian rebels holding the security strip in the South that Israel and Jordan established adjacent to their borders.
B. Russian officers began building and arming a new Druze militia of 2,000 fighters composed of 22 units opposite Israel’s Golan border defenses. They are accompanied by Syrian army advisors, confirming Israel’s constant concern that a Syrian-led Druze militia in this critical area would be ripe for takeover by Hizballah.
C. Indeed, members of the Russian Spetsnaz (special forces) were sighted this week fighting alongside Hizballah forces on various Syrian fronts – another cause of Israeli alarm. It was also a breach of Russian President Vadimir Putin’s promise to Netanyahu that Russian forces would not work with, or serve the interests of, the Lebanese Shiite terrorists.