The Strategic Setting
The Nineties saw sweeping changes in global alliances. The war in the Persian Gulf attested to the volatile nature of the Middle East, a region marked by vast disparities in ideologies and in the distribution of resources. These differences are a destabilizing force both within the Arab world and within the context of Arab-Israeli relations. A basic asymmetry characterizes Israel's position vis-a-vis its Arab neighbors and directly affects the role the IAF must play:
Geographically, Israel is tiny (smaller than New Jersey) when compared to Arab states. More pointedly, it lacks strategic depth. A hostile fighter could fly across all of Israel (40 nautical miles wide from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea) within four minutes, while traveling at "only" subsonic speed. A single fighter formation can carry more ordnance than the combined warheads of the 39 Scud missiles which were ruthlessly fired at Israeli population centers during the Gulf War.
Economically, Arab petrodollars have been translated into vast arsenals of modern military hardware. The potential threat includes state-of-the- art Soviet equipment, such as the Mig 29 and Su-24 fighters, as well as the "best of the west" from American and European sources.
In terms of population, Israel is unable to field a large standing force compared with those it faces and must rely on its reserves and on the IAF's high state of readiness, 24 hours a day. Israel's small population also increases its sensitivity to civilian and military losses.
These points emphasize Israel's need for peace, which has always been the cornerstone of Israel's defense strategy. To maintain the peace, the IAF must keep Israel's skies clear while presenting an ever-ready deterrent to potential enemies. In case deterrence fails, it would be the IAF's job to help win a quick and decisive victory, as it did in 1967.