Israeli defence minister Avigdor Lieberman has expressed his full support for the development of a capability to attack targets at ranges of up to 270nm (500km) using surface-to-surface missiles, instead of combat aircraft.

During a recent meeting with senior officers from the nation's defence forces, Lieberman said modern missile technology will allow Israel to strike high-value targets in neighbouring countries without using its air force's resources.

Regional media reports have claimed that some of the so-called "phantom" attacks – made on convoys transporting Iranian weapons to arm Hezbollah militants in Lebanon, and to an Iranian base in Syria – were made by long-range missiles fired from Israel.

Traditionally, the Israeli air force has been in charge of suppressing rocket and shell-fire directed fired towards civilian and military targets from neighbouring states, but this role has been under extensive re-evaluation.

Until a few years ago, the only long-range strike system available to Israel's ground forces was the US-developed multiple launch rocket system, which has a range of 24nm. However, Israel Military Industries has since developed the Extra extended-range artillery missile, which has a range of over 80nm. Israel Aerospace Industries has also developed the Lora, which can strike targets at a distance of 216nm.

Although ground-launched weapons often can be deployed faster against fleeting threats than aircraft, and remove the need to place combat aircraft at risk from sophisticated air-defence systems, the air force is critical of the proposed tactical shift.

F-35A Adir - Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin

In addition to introducing Lockheed Martin's stealthy F-35I, the service wants to enhance its ability to carry heavy weapons loads over a long distance by purchasing an advanced variant of Boeing's F-15.

Last September Israel took delivery of nine F-15s from surplus US Air National Guard stocks. Initially intended to be a source of spare parts, the fighters are to undergo a structural upgrade and wing treatment before having locally-made systems installed for operational use.

"With the accurate missiles that we have today it makes a lot of sense to use them and not combat aircraft in certain ranges," says retired Maj Gen Eitan Ben Eliyahu, a former Israeli air force commander who is supportive of Lieberman's proposed tactics. "The aircraft have enough other missions."