The United States will participate in Israel’s largescale drill simulating a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities as part of the broader Chariots of Fire exercise later this month, Channel 13 reported.
According to the unsourced report, the US Air Force will serve as a complementary force, with refueling planes drilling with Israeli fighter jets as they simulate entering Iranian territory and carrying out repeated strikes.
“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,” reports Axios. General Michael Kurilla, commander of U.S. Central Command, landed in Israel on Tuesday to observe the exercises.
The unprecedented Israel- US aerial collaboration in a drill simulating a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities is seen as a potential message to Iran amid long-stalled negotiations in Vienna over a return to the 2015 nuclear deal, a possibility Israel has repeatedly voiced its objection to, warning it would lead to “a more violent, more volatile Middle East.”
Large numbers of Israeli fighter jets –dozens, according to Kan TV news — will take part in the simulated attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. The TV report noted that when Israel conducted a major drill for such an attack some 10 years ago, when it was widely reported to be on the point of striking Iran, the US did not participate.
The Israeli military has taken steps throughout the past year to prepare a credible military threat against Tehran’s nuclear facilities. The US, in turn, has expressed reluctance to prepare for a military confrontation with Iran but nonetheless said it would explore other options if talks in Vienna fail.
Channel 13 defense reporter Or Heller noted that by including the US in the drill, the two countries are sending a message to Iran that the US could support an Israeli offensive, even if its fighter jets do not actively participate.
At the beginning of last year, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi announced he had instructed the military to begin drawing up fresh attack plans against Iran. By September, Kohavi said the army had “greatly accelerated” preparations for action against Tehran’s nuclear program.
In addition to having to find ways to strike Iranian facilities that are buried deep underground, requiring specialized munitions and tactics, the IAF will have to deal with increasingly sophisticated Iranian air defenses in order to conduct such a strike.
The air force will also have to prepare for an expected retaliation against Israel by Iran and its allies throughout the region.
The upcoming drill is also expected to focus on preparing for and responding to such retaliation.
Gantz said Iran was just a “few weeks” away from accumulating sufficient fissile material for a bomb and was also working to finish the production and installation of 1,000 advanced centrifuges for enriching uranium, including at a new underground site at the Natanz nuclear facility.