Israel remains mum on Iran strike drill

The IAF has boosted its overseas training in recent years, The Jerusalem Post learns.

IAF f-16i 224 (photo credit: IDF )
IAF f-16i 224
(photo credit: IDF )
Amid reports that the Israel Air Force recently conducted a massive drill as a "dress rehearsal" for an attack against Iran, The Jerusalem Post has learned that the IAF significantly increased the number of overseas drills it has participated in over the past two years. The long-range flight exercises, many of which have included mid-air refueling, have taken place in the United States, Canada, Europe and Sardinia, as well as throughout the Mediterranean Sea. On Friday, The New York Times reported that Israel carried out a major military drill over the eastern Mediterranean and Greece in the first week of June that US sources say was apparently a rehearsal for a potential attack on Iran's nuclear sites. According to the report, more than 100 IAF F-16 and F-15 fighter jets took part in the exercise. The drill also included IAF rescue helicopters and refueling tankers that flew around 1,500 km., according to the report, which is approximately the distance between Israel and Iran's uranium enrichment plant at Natanz. On Saturday, the Times of London quoted an Israeli political official as saying the exercise was a "dress rehearsal" for a future attack on Iran. The IDF would neither confirm nor deny the reports and in recent briefings with the press, air force brass have refrained from any mention of preparations for such an attack, other than saying that the "IAF was prepared for all the threats Israel faces." In response to the report in The New York Times, the IDF Spokesman's Office issued a statement saying the IDF "regularly trains for various missions in order to confront and meet the challenges posed by the threats facing Israel." The increase in training outside of Israel is mainly to prepare pilots for long-range flights and to allow them to test various munitions intended for long-range air strikes. US officials confirmed the reports on the exercise and said it was "impossible to miss" and may have been meant as a show of force as well as practice with the skills needed to execute a long-range strike. "They have been conducting some large-scale exercises - they live in a tough neighborhood," one US official said, though he offered no other recent examples. Israel is increasingly concerned by reports that Iranian soldiers are training with the advanced S-300 air defense missile system in Russia, although the defense establishment believes that Teheran has not yet obtained the system. Israel has been working diplomatically to prevent the sale and delivery of the system. The S-300 is one of the best multi-target anti-aircraft missile systems in the world and has a reported ability to track up to 100 targets simultaneously while engaging up to 12 at the same time. "We need to do everything to stop the S-300 from reaching the region," a top defense official said. The timing of the IAF exercise fits into Israeli assessments that the United States will not take military action against Iran before the end of President George W. Bush's term in January. On June 6, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz said in a newspaper interview that if Iran continued its nuclear program, Israel "will attack it." The week before Mofaz made his comments, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Israel had a viable military option, and last Sunday former deputy defense minister Ephraim Sneh said he believed that Israel would, in the end, need to attack Iran. Last month the Post revealed that the IDF had moved up its forecasts on Teheran reaching nuclear capability by almost a full year - from 2009 to the end of 2008. According to the new timeline, Iran will master centrifuge enrichment technology by the end of the current year and could have a nuclear weapon by the middle of next year. It has been reported that Iran currently has 6,000 centrifuges at its Natanz enrichment facility and there is room for some tens of thousands. If everything goes as planned, Iran will have enough enriched uranium for a bomb by mid-2009. This new timeline leaves Israeli government and military leaders in a major predicament concerning the "point of no return" for Teheran's nuclear weapons program and for a potential military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. The UN nuclear watchdog chief warned in comments aired Saturday that any attack on Iran could turn the Middle East into a "ball of fire" and lead Teheran to a more aggressive stance on its nuclear program. "In my opinion, a military strike will be the worst... it will turn the Middle East into a ball of fire," Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said on Al-Arabiya television. It also might prompt Iran to press even harder to seek a nuclear program, and force him to resign, he said. Iran on Saturday also criticized the IDF drill. The official IRNA news agency quoted a government spokesman as saying that the exercises demonstrate that Israel "jeopardizes global peace and security." AP contributed to this report