The former head of the Israeli Air Force, Major-General Amir Eshel has revealed that Russian aircraft have entered Israeli airspace “many times” during the Syrian civil war in an exclusive interview with the Haaretz newspaper.
In an extensive interview with Amos Harel, Eshel spoke at length about the Israeli Air Force’s increasing capability, the missile threat from Hezbollah and the IAF’s regional cooperation.
Eshel discussed the mechanism that Israel has set up after the Russians deployed in Syria in 2015 in order to reduce the possibility of a serious confrontation with Russian aircraft.
He said: “There’s something technical here, and there are leaders’ directives, and trust. We don’t intend to harm the Russians, and we do everything to avoid harming them. They understand why we are taking action. They don’t agree or give us authorisation, but I think they understand what Israel is doing. It is fighting terrorism, preventing the delivery of means of combat.”
Eshel spoke of the importance of real-time communication between the two air forces. With regards to the Russians entering Israeli air space, Esher said that “there were situations in which we contacted them in real time and said that there had been a mistake, and they immediately responded and corrected. That’s alright. We have not seen provocations”.
Eshel also spoke about the IAF’s expanded relations with other countries. He told Harel that “there is a convergence of interests between Israel and other countries in the region … two years ago, I would not have imagined that things like this would happen, that we’d get to the places we’ve gotten to”.
Israeli and foreign media have reported on joint training exercises with countries as Greece, Cyprus and Romania and the Israeli air force worked with the Jordanian air force in a training exercise with the US. There has also been signs of more clandestine relations, to which Eshel refers indirectly as “aerial diplomacy” or the creation of an “aerial bridge”.
Eshel further elaborated on recent reports of Israel striking Syrian and Hezbollah arms convoys, saying the number is “nearing triple digits” in the last five years.
Eshel retired from active service in the IDF after a career of 40 years, slightly more than five of them as commander of the IAF.