US to refuel Israeli warplanes during massive drill simulating strike on Iran

The Israeli drill will simulate striking targets far from Israel’s borders with a lot of planes while simultaneously acquiring new targets.

Boeing's KC-46 aerial refueling tanker (photo credit: BOEING)
Boeing's KC-46 aerial refueling tanker
(photo credit: BOEING)

In a signal to Iran, the US Air Force will refuel Israel Air Force fighter jets during a massive aerial drill in the coming weeks that will simulate an Israeli strike against Iran.

The Israeli drill – dubbed “Chariots of Fire” – will simulate striking targets far from Israel’s borders with a large number of planes while simultaneously acquiring new targets on various fronts in real time. It will be the largest military drill in Israel’s history.

Unprecedented in scope, the drill will enable the army to maintain a high level of readiness in an ever-changing region, the IDF said. It aims to improve the military’s capabilities in an intense, multi-front and prolonged war on all of Israel’s borders.

During the drill, the IAF will practice striking distant targets while troops continue to contend with a multi-front war on its borders.

Channel 13 revealed on Tuesday night that US refueling tankers will drill the midair refueling of Israeli fighter jets during the Iran-attack simulation. The IAF did not return comment.

  A US Air Force B-1b heavy bomber was escorted by an IAF F-15 fighter jet above Israeli airspace on October 30, 2021 (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT) A US Air Force B-1b heavy bomber was escorted by an IAF F-15 fighter jet above Israeli airspace on October 30, 2021 (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)

On Tuesday, US Central Command chief Gen. Michael Kurilla landed in Israel to participate in the drill and met with senior IDF officials including IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi, Head of the Operations Division Maj.-Gen. Oded Basiuk, Head of Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Aharon Haliva, Head of the Strategy and Third Circle Maj.-Gen. Tal Kelman, and the Defense Attache to Washington, Maj.-Gen. Hidai Zilberman.

The officers discussed issues related to joint challenges facing the US military and Israel, including the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program and the establishment of Iranian proxies throughout the Middle East.

The IDF’s operational activity on Israel’s northern border as well as the West Bank and Gaza Strip were also presented to Kurilla, “with an emphasis on the innovations in fire and strike capabilities, intelligence and digital connectivity,” read a statement released by the IDF’s Spokesperson’s Unit.

According to a senior military official familiar with the visit, Kurilla will hear from the IDF its assessment about the region and Iran. He will hear “what we see and what we think” during the exercise and will “see how Israel will act in a worst case scenario that is based on real scenarios and contingency plans” that Israel is expecting during a war.

“Unfortunately, it is a slippery slope and we can find ourselves carrying out maneuvers in Lebanon and we don’t know how that can develop,” the officer said.

At the end of the meetings, Kurilla took part in the Chariots of Fire drill and took part in a situational assessment held at the underground command center in the Kiyra military compound known as the “Bor” (the Pit) that included operational and intelligence cooperation with the US military.

Kurilla is in Israel after visiting other countries in the region. According to the officer, Kurilla is no stranger to the Middle East, and is the main American “sensor” in the region.

While Kurilla and his team are expected to have an open discussion with frank talks with the Israeli officials, “we have constraints on both sides,” the officer said, explaining that as sovereign states they both have their own interests.

But “we must share with the Americans exactly what we think and his visit here will achieve these goals,” the officer said.

Kohavi said that Kurilla’s first visit to Israel “deepened our common knowledge of the challenges posed to the two countries.”

The chief of staff said that following the month-long drill – which reflects “updated operational planes, customized military capabilities and new combat methods including cooperation with the US military” – the IDF’s readiness for war will be at its peak.

Alongside the drill, the IDF has said that fighting the ongoing wave of terror attacks is it’s No. 1 priority, and will continue to carry out operations to arrest suspects and confiscate weapons.

“The IDF faces a wide range of arenas and threats, from a knife to an ax, from Jenin to Isfahan,” Kohavi said. “The IDF works in all arenas to gather intelligence, thwart threats and prepare for war against any arena or in a multi-front scenario.”

Noting that the alliance between the US and Israel has only strengthened in recent years, Kohavi said that it is “an alliance that proves time and time again that it’s a strategic asset for the security of the State of Israel.”

Noting that the visit is further proof of the “important alliance” with the US and its military, Kohavi said that “the Middle East must remain a top priority for countries of the world that want stability, and that radical enemies remain weak and deterred.”

While the head of CENTCOM is in Israel, Defense Minister Benny Gantz is in Washington, where he is scheduled to meet with his American counterpart, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.

“I will discuss strengthening joint security cooperation and dealing with regional challenges, foremost among them Iran, against whom all moderate players in the region must unite,” Gantz said late Tuesday evening before he took off for the US.

The IDF is planning several military options against Iran should the nuclear talks between the West and the Islamic Republic fail. During the month-long military exercise, it will practice one of the options.

The military will also implement the lessons learned from Operation Guardian of the Walls throughout the entire month. During the 11 days of fighting last year, there was heavy rioting in mixed Arab-Israeli cities such as Lod and Jaffa, during which two people were killed and several civilians injured.

Yaakov Katz contributed to this report.