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(photo credit: AP)
On the day that US Vice President Joe Biden seemed to give Israel a green light for military action to eliminate Iran's nuclear threat, The Jerusalem Post learned that the IAF plans to participate in aerial exercises in the US and Europe in the coming months with the aim of training its pilots for long-range flights.
Biden was asked on ABC's This Week whether the US would stand in the way militarily if the Israelis decided they needed to take out Iran's nuclear program.
The US "cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do," he said.
"Israel can determine for itself - it's a sovereign nation - what's in their interest and what they decide to do relative to Iran and anyone else," he said in an interview broadcast Sunday.
"Whether we agree or not, they're entitled to do that. Any sovereign nation is entitled to do that. But there is no pressure from any nation that's going to alter our behavior as to how to proceed," Biden added.
"If the Netanyahu government decides to take a course of action different than the one being pursued now, that is their sovereign right to do that. That is not our choice," he said.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's government says it prefers to see Iran's nuclear program stopped through diplomacy, but has not ruled out a military strike.
Asked about Biden's comments, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the US position on Iran and a military strike involved a "political decision."
"I have been, for some time, concerned about any strike on Iran. I worry about it being very destabilizing, not just in and of itself but unintended consequences of a strike like that," Mullen said on CBS's Face the Nation.
"At the same time, I'm one that thinks Iran should not have nuclear weapons. I think that is very destabilizing," he said.
IAF planes will take part this year in a joint aerial exercise with a NATO-member state that cannot be identified.
In addition, later this month, the air force will send F-16C fighter jets to participate in the Red Flag exercise at the Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. At the same time, several of the IAF's C-130 Hercules transport aircraft will participate in the Rodeo 2009 competition at the McChord Air Force Base in Washington state.
Defense officials said the overseas exercises would be used to drill long-range maneuvers. Last summer, more than 100 IAF jets flew over Greece in what was viewed as a test-run for a potential strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.
Israel has a number of defense pacts with countries under which the air force is allowed to fly in foreign airspace. In May, the French newsweekly L'Express reported that the IAF had staged military exercises over Gibraltar, some 4,000 km. away from Israel.
In 2006, then-defense minister Shaul Mofaz signed a five-year cooperation agreement allowing IDF forces to deploy in Romania for joint training exercises. In 1996, Israel and Turkey signed a bilateral defense alliance allowing their air forces to fly in each other's airspace.
The IAF did not participate in the recent multi-nation Anatolian Eagle aerial exercise in Turkey, "but defense officials said that the absence was not due to tensions between the countries sparked by Operation Cast Lead earlier this year."
Israel's rare absence from the exercise earlier this month drew attention and was reported on by the Turkish media. Another and larger Anatolian Eagle exercise will be held later this year. Israel has yet to announce if it will participate.
In the recent exercise, 83 jets drilled live bombing runs under a simulated surface-to-air threat environment.
On Sunday, the London Sunday Times reported that Saudi Arabia would allow IAF jets to fly over the kingdom during any strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.
According to the report, Mossad chief Meir Dagan held talks with Saudi officials earlier this year on the topic and recently conveyed news of the green light to Netanyahu.
The Prime Minister's Office issued an official denial on Sunday morning, saying the report was "completely false and baseless."
The Israeli media has already carried unconfirmed reports that high-ranking officials, including former prime minister Ehud Olmert, held meetings with Saudi officials, but the kingdom has denied the reports.
"The Saudis have tacitly agreed to the Israeli air force flying through their airspace on a mission which is supposed to be in the common interests of both Israel and Saudi Arabia," the Sunday Times quoted a diplomatic source as saying.
Former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton, who recently visited the Gulf, said it was "entirely logical" for the Israelis to use Saudi airspace.
Bolton, who has talked recently to a number of Arab leaders, added: "None of them would say anything about it publicly, but they would certainly acquiesce in an overflight if the Israelis didn't trumpet it as a big success."
Arab states would publicly condemn a raid when they spoke at the UN, but would be privately relieved to see the threat of an Iranian bomb removed, Bolton said.
While most experts are in agreement that there's a good chance Iran could have a usable nuclear bomb sometime during his presidency, President Barack Obama told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday, "I'm not reconciled with that."
A nuclear-armed Iran, Obama said, "probably would lead to an arms race in the volatile Mideast and that would be "a recipe for potential disaster."
He said opposing a nuclear weapons capacity for Iran was more than just "a US position" and that "the biggest concern is not simply that Iran can threaten us or our allies, like Israel or its neighbors."
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