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Israeli air force training gears up for possible conflict
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08:51, November 20, 2008

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Several hundred meters away, a fighter jet can be seen preparing to take off.

Taxiing down the runway, the fighter, an F-16I, came nearer and nearer, soaring with deafening noise into the sky, which was a little gray.

The scene, witnessed Wednesday afternoon at southern Israel's Ramon air base, which lies in the heartland of the Negev Desert, is an indication of frequent training mission of the Israel Air Force (IAF).

"Since the 2006 Second Lebanon War, we have been training like hell, every day and every night," Colonel Ziv Levy, commander of Ramon air base, said in a briefing to a group of foreign journalists.

Israel and Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah movement plunged into a devastating 34-day war in 2006 that claimed the lives of more than160 Israelis, mostly soldiers, and over 1,200 Lebanese, most of them civilians.

Earlier Wednesday, Lieutenant Colonel Gil, commander of Ramon air base's Magic Touch (Apache helicopters) squadron, and Lieutenant Colonel Amnon, commander of the air base's Negev (F-16Ifighters) squadron, also said that the air base is busy training, as well as carrying out various military operations to protect the Jewish state.

The reason behind the hard training, said Levy, is that the Jewish country faces new challenges and the IAF, as an important component of Israel Defense Forces (IDF), must ensure that it is well-prepared for any potential conflict in the future.

Citing the threats from Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah, the 44-year-old colonel said that the IDF must always be on the alert and get prepared for any mission.

"My job is to make sure that the air base is ready for any scenario, that nobody can eliminate us, because Israel can not afford a failure," said the air base commander, adding that in addition to hard training, the IAF is also seeking new technology and smart, unique weapons, which can be used to cope with its enemies.

Gabriel Castellan, an IDF spokesman who coordinated the unusual opening of the desert base to the foreign media, echoed Levy's words.

"IDF must be prepared for any scenario, because if we lose, we will disappear. We can not afford it," the young man told Xinhua.

Asked about the objective of organizing the foreign press tour, he said that the tour had been planned for months, aiming to help the foreign press get a better picture of the IAF.

"It has nothing to do with any possible IDF operation," he said.

However, a possible conflict between Israel and Iran did stand out in Wednesday's tour.

Asked by foreign press about the Iranian nuclear issue, Levy said that despite sanctions and diplomacy, Iran is continuing with its nuclear program and pursuing nuclear weapons.

"This will pose a serious threat not only to Israel, but to the region and the world," said the air base commander. Israeli leaders have repeatedly voiced similar remarks.

The United States, Israel and their Western allies accuse Iran of secretly developing nuclear weapons, but Iran insists that its nuclear program is only for generating electricity.

Washington and Israel have consistently refused to rule out the possibility of military strikes against Iran over its refusal to halt its nuclear program. Earlier this year, speculations once flared up that Israel might carry out a military strike against Iran's nuclear sites.

As for the possibility of an IAF attack against Iran's nuclear facilities, Levy said that it is a decision up to Israeli political leadership, reiterating that what IAF can do is to get prepared for defending the country.

When asked by foreign press whether he has been trained to prepare for a possible strike against Iran, Arik, an F-16I pilot, maintained deliberate ambiguity.

"The plane can go far enough to defend Israel and its interests," said the 23-year-old pilot, without elaborating.

Iran, which calls for Israel's destruction, announced earlier this month that the Islamic Republic has successfully test-fired anew surface-to-surface missile, which has a range of about 1,200 miles (2,000 km).

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also warned that his country will give a crushing response to any invaders as it possesses new generation missiles that can reach U.S. bases in the Middle East and Israel.


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