May 17, 2022 - World

Israeli military to hold wide-ranging drill simulating strike on Iran

An Israeli air force F-15 fighter on Oct. 24, 2021, at the Ovda air force north of Eilat, Israel. Photo: Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images

An Israeli air force F-15 fighter on Oct. 24, 2021, at the Ovda air force north of Eilat, Israel. Photo: Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images

The Israeli military in two weeks will begin a wide-ranging exercise to train for a possible attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, senior Israeli officials said Tuesday.

Why it matters: It will be the first time in at least five years that the Israeli military will engage in such an exercise. The goal is to redevelop a credible military option against Iran's nuclear program, the Israeli officials said in a briefing with reporters.

Driving the news: The “Iran aerial exercise” will take place as part of the fourth week of the “Chariots of fire” drill, which simulates a wide-ranging regional conflict, Israeli officials said.

  • Dozens of Israeli air force fighter jets are expected to take part in the exercise and fly hundreds of miles from Israel to the west above the Mediterranean in a way that simulates a flight route to Iran, the officials said.
  • U.S. air force refueling planes are expected to take part in this part of the exercise, Israel's channel 13 reported. Israeli officials confirmed that there will be U.S. participation, but they didn’t give any details. The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.
  • CENTCOM commander Gen. Michael Kurilla arrived in Israel on Tuesday to observe parts of the wider Israeli military exercise, the IDF said in a statement.

The big picture: The “pause” in the indirect nuclear talks between the U.S. and Iran has entered its ninth week.

  • The U.S. and Israel have expressed concerns that Iran will continue to advance its nuclear program while the talks are stalled.

Flashback: In the years leading to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Israel prepared for the possibility of an air strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came close to ordering such a strike in 2012.

  • After the nuclear talks between the U.S. and Iran started in 2013 and even more so after the deal was reached, Netanyahu took the Israeli military option off the table.
  • Israel's military option became irrelevant during the Trump presidency, when Netanyahu didn't renew efforts to prepare for a possible strike in Iran.
  • But when the new Israeli government assumed office a year ago, it resumed the development of an independent Israeli military option against Iran’s nuclear program and appropriated billions of dollars for military build up and training.

Between the lines: Israeli officials said that the Israeli military is preparing several plans for possible strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities but admitted that without the U.S. developing similar plans they will be less credible and will do less to deter Iran.

What they are saying: Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said in a speech on Tuesday that the lesson from Russia's invasion of Ukraine is that economic, political and military power should sometimes be used preemptively to prevent a wider war.

  • “This is true about the situation with Iran today. Israel is getting prepared for all scenarios by building its military power and by holding strategic talks with the Biden administration," Gantz said. “The cost of countering Iran now is higher than it has been a year ago and lower than it will be a year from now”.

What’s next: Gantz will arrive in Washington on Wednesday and meet with White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and discuss Iran. On Thursday, Gantz will meet Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.

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