Bracing for a possible confrontation with Iran, the IAF is set to receive a major boost to its long-range capabilities later this month with the expected arrival of a Boeing 707 that will be converted into a midair refueling tanker.

The air force bought the plane several months ago and it will be sent to Israel Aerospace Industries, where it will be reconfigured.

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The IAF received its last fuel tanker in late 2009, and the number it has in service is classified.

The 707s are able to refuel all of the air force’s F-15 and F-16 fighter jets, as well as its fleet of Hercules C-130 transport aircraft.

Midair refueling is considered vital in the event of an Israeli military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Due to the location of some of the facilities and their location in underground bunkers, it is possible that IAF fighter jets would need to conduct a number of attack sorties, and would therefore require additional fuel.

“Fuel tankers enhance our longrange capabilities,” a senior IAF officer said this week.

The air force has conducted a major upgrade of its tanker fleet in recent years and now plans to wait for the US Air Force to choose its future tanker before buying additional aircraft.

The IAF had considered converting Gulfstream business jets into airborne tankers but has abandoned that idea.

However, future plans include the possibility of large unmanned aerial vehicles being used as refueling aircraft.

Unmanned refueling tankers would minimize the risk to pilots and be harder for enemy radar to spot because they are relatively small. They would also be able to spend extended periods in the air – some can stay airborne for 24 hours – without the need to refuel or land to switch pilots.

While the IDF is preparing for a possible military showdown with Iran, it does not appear that such an operation will be launched anytime soon. Earlier this week, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told The Jerusalem Post that Iran would not obtain a nuclear weapon in the coming year, and earlier this month, outgoing Mossad chief Meir Dagan put the timeline somewhere toward the middle of the decade.

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