ISRAEL'S AIR FORCE IS PREPARED FOR ANY THREAT, ESPECIALLY A NUCLEAR IRAN, SAYS ITS COMMANDER -- "60 MINUTES" SUNDAY ON CBS
The commander of the Israeli air force takes Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's threats against Israel extremely seriously. Israelis must be ready for anything and ultimately trust only themselves, he believes, and for good reason: his family survived the Holocaust. Maj. Gen. Eliezer Shkedy speaks to Bob Simon in a
60 MINUTES story about the Israeli air force to be broadcast Sunday, April 27 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
"I think it is a very serious threat to the state of Israel, but more than this, to the whole world," Shkedy says of the Iranian leader's public animosity toward Israel. "They are talking about what they think about the state of Israel. They are talking about destroying and wiping us from the earth," he tells Simon. It reminds him of the Holocaust. "We should remember. We cannot forget. We should trust only ourselves."
The general likens ignoring Ahmadinejad today to the atmosphere that enabled the Holocaust yesterday. "In those days, people didn't believe that Hitler was serious about what he said. I suggest not to repeat this way of thinking, and to prepare ourselves for what they are planning," says Shkedy. "We should be prepared for everything." Click here for an excerpt.
Iran publicly professes to be building a nuclear reactor for energy but many speculate a bomb cannot be far off once nuclear fuel is produced there. In 1981, Saddam Hussein built a nuclear reactor in Iraq and Israel responded militarily with its air force, wiping out the facility.
Israeli air force veterans of that mission talk to Simon about it and cockpit video vividly replays the moment. The Israelis hope they won't have to undertake such a mission today, but a bombing mission to Iran, if undertaken, is a different thing, the veterans of the 1981 attack say.
Zeev Raz, the commander of that mission, compares the situations. "We had one point to destroy. They have many points, many of them deep under the mountains...underground and it's a much more complicated problem [than in] 1981," he tells Simon. "I really hope it will be solved another way. There is only one thing worse than the Israel air force having to do it -- Iran having a nuclear bomb," says Raz.
Simon speaks to several current Israeli pilots and 60 MINUTES cameras catch them in training. The air force is Israel's elite service, allowed by law to select the best people from the entire military-age population, all of whom must serve. Only one in 40 pilots is given the controls of a jet fighter in what is considered the best air force in the Middle East. It has to be, says Col. Ziv Levy, an air base commander. "We spend a lot of time and a lot of effort in training and being prepared for the worst. We cannot lose a single war. The first war we lose, Israel will cease to exist," he tells Simon.