The country's military and political leaders were all in attendance Thursday at the graduation ceremony of the Israel Air Force's pilot training course, as dozens of pilots – including the air force's first religious female pilot – received their “wings.”
The three year course grants graduates who have already served in the army advanced ranks of Captain and Lieutenant in the IAF, a degree from Ben Gurion University – and a place in the cockpit of the IAF's fleet of fighter jets.
In attendance were President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister. Binyamin Netanyahu, Minister of Defense, Ehud Barak, Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz and IAF Commander, Maj. Gen. Ido Nehushtan, along with the families of those graduating, as well as guests and IAF staff.
Speaking at the ceremony at the Hatzerim Air Force base, Gantz said that "today, your voice joins the thunderous one of the IDF, one that answers those who wish us harm: do not test the strength of the IDF. Our force is that of a strong and persistent nation- we do not seek war, but are determined and prepared to retaliate if a threat is posed upon us. As long as Israeli communities are in range of the missiles of Hamas, Hizbullah and other terrorist organizations, your first and foremost challenge is to provide a peripheral response to the threat from our enemies."
Gantz added that “as long as we face attacks of de-legitimization, fueled by false propaganda and flotillas driven by hate, we will persevere and stand tall, armed with the truth and prepared to respond harshly to any threat on the State of Israel.”
As a high-profile event, the country's top political leaders appear at the graduation ceremony annually, and at this year's ceremony, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu related to the flotilla that had been scheduled to attempt to break Israel's blockade of Gaza.
Netanyahu expressed his thanks “to the many leaders around the world who have spoken and acted against the latest flotilla, a provocation against the State of Israel. I would like to thank the leaders of the U.S. and Europe, the UN Secretary-General, and the Greek Prime Minister. Israel has full rights to act against this attempt to smuggle missiles, rockets, and other weapons to the Hamas terror territory of Gaza. Hamas is a cruel enemy who relentlessly attacks our cities and our children,” Netanyahu said.
Peres related his remarks to the Iranian threat. Peres said that Iran was “exaggerating” over its alleged military might. However, he said, “Israel is well aware of the potential dangers it faces. “I would suggest to the Iranians that they not make a mistake when evaluating Israel's capabilities, some of which are not public. Iran does not have stability or freedom. I wish it a future without hare or dictators,” Peres said.