Israel’s military is continuing to develop its ability to conduct a military strike against Iran’s nuclear program should circumstances demand it.
After a five-month hiatus, indirect talks between the United States and Iran are set to resume on Monday, with the other parties to the nuclear deal mediating in hope of reestablishing an agreement to curb the Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions.
The defense establishment does not see a war breaking out with Iran or its proxies, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, but the IDF has been keeping an eye on the North and on the South.
It held large-scale exercises in the North in October and November, and there are plans to hold 50% more drills next year than in 2020, and 30% more than in 2021.
The increased exercises set for 2022 follows years of stagnation, and will be the largest training operation in five years, especially for reserve forces.
Following the signing of the Abraham Accords, the IDF has also begun conducting drills with Gulf Arab states.
In a subtle message to Iran, Israel took part in a multilateral maritime security drill in the Red Sea with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and US Naval Forces Central Command’s (NAVCENT).
The drill in early November was the first of its kind, and showed what kind of naval coalition Israel might join should there be military action against Iran.
“It is exciting to see US forces training with regional partners to enhance our collective maritime security capabilities,” V-Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of NAVCENT, US 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces said at the time. “Maritime collaboration helps safeguard freedom of navigation and the free flow of trade, which are essential to regional security and stability.”
There are also hints of an aerial coalition that could come together.
Israeli jets recently escorted a B-1B strategic heavy bomber and KC-10 refuelers on their way to the Gulf. Jets from Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia also escorted those planes while flying through their respective airspace.
Israel’s Blue Flag air drills, which become more popular as the years go on, also provide a clue as to what other countries could fly alongside Israel when push comes to shove.
This year’s Blue Flag saw aircraft from Germany (six Eurofighters), Italy (five F-35 jets and five G550 planes), Britain (six Eurofighters), France (four Raphale jets), India (five Mirage jets), Greece (four F-16 jets), and the US (six F-16 CJ jets) take part.
During the drill, forces practiced aerial battle as well as surface-to-air battle scenarios, advanced surface-to-air missiles combat outlines in enemy territory, and more.
The exercise focused on “broadening and enhancing the operational capabilities of the participating forces,” with a focus on air-to-air and air-to-ground attacks, as well as evading ground-based air defense systems “and various operational scenarios in enemy territory,” the army said at the time of the drill.
While Israel has never joined a regional military coalition, Marom Division commander Col. Aviran Lerer told The Jerusalem Post that there could be a time that Jerusalem might be part of such a partnership.
Lerer, who spoke to The Post after a two-week drill with 500 troops from NAVCENT’s 51/5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, said that the IDF has to be ready to fight with other troops.
The drill, he said, was to strengthen ties with Israel’s main ally and the Marines who “are a significant force in the US military with whom we have a lot of shared interests. The United States always fights as a coalition, and it could be that will be part of a future coalition. We, as an army, have to do everything we can to be ready for a future conflict; we see the Americans as a strategic ally, and there could be a time when we will work and fight together.”
While Israel’s diplomats are working around the clock to influence the United States, the UK and France on the Iran talks, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that the “best-case scenario” would be a deal that not only focuses on uranium enrichment but also on Tehran’s ballistic missile program and its regional hostility.
“Concerning Iran, we must influence our partners and have ongoing discussion with them,” Gantz said. “Our other obligation is to build a military force, which is an important issue by itself. I ordered [the military] to improve its force build-up, in parallel to our discussions with our strategic partners.”