Air Force stages major drill in Greece practicing potential long-range strike on Iran

Military says fighter jets flew thousands of kilometers, successfully hit targets with live fire, despite ‘particularly challenging’ weather conditions

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Israeli Air Force and Hellenic Air Force fighter jets fly over Greece during a drill, September 13, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
Israeli Air Force and Hellenic Air Force fighter jets fly over Greece during a drill, September 13, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israeli Air Force (IAF) staged a major long-range strike drill in Greece this week, the latest in a series of drills aimed at preparing the military for a potential strike on Iran and its nuclear facilities.

The Israeli military said Thursday that the joint two-day-long drill with the Hellenic Air Force included long-range flights, aerial refueling, low-altitude flights and the use of live fire.

During the drill, dozens of IAF fighter jets, as well as spy planes and refueling aircraft, flew thousands of kilometers from Israel to Greece and back, the Israel Defense Forces said.

“In Greek territory, the fighter jets practiced low-altitude flights and dropping live ammunition in designated areas,” the IDF said.

The IDF said the drill was carried out under “particularly challenging” weather conditions, but despite this, all the mock targets were destroyed. Greece experienced major flooding caused by Mediterranean storm Daniel over the last week.

Fighter jets of the Hellenic Air Force joined the IAF warplanes during their long-range flights into Greek territory, which the IDF said is aimed at “mutual learning.”

The commander of the 106th squadron, Lt. Col. “Mem” — who can only be identified by the first letter of his first name in Hebrew — said there were two main goals to the drill.

“The first is cooperation with Greece, which includes mutual learning… and the second is improving the IAF’s readiness. Dealing with long-range flights, with weather challenges… lacking intelligence, and sometimes with very complex missions,” he said.

“The exercise is part of a series of exercises and models carried out by the IAF in the past year and their purpose is to improve operational and mental competence for long-range flights, refueling, attacks in the depth [of enemy territory] and achieving air superiority,” the IDF said.

Several more drills of this type will be held this year, the military added.

Israeli Air Force and Hellenic Air Force fighter jets fly over Greece during a drill, September 13, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Channel 12 news reported last month that the IDF was set to hold a number of major joint military drills with the United States in the coming months, including one that would simulate an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Israel has been pushing for the US to prepare military contingency plans in order to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Jerusalem opposes US President Joe Biden’s attempts to revive a nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers that traded sanctions reliefs for curbs on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. Biden has said he is prepared to use military force if necessary, but still prefers to exhaust the diplomatic route first.

Amid the growing uncertainty regarding a return by Iran to the deal, the past two years have seen the IDF ramp up efforts to prepare a credible military threat against Tehran’s nuclear sites, holding several drills focused on long-range flights in unfamiliar territory.

While Iran long has maintained its program is peaceful, non-proliferation experts warn Tehran has enough 60 percent enriched uranium to reprocess into fuel for at least one nuclear bomb.

Israeli officials have also warned of Iran’s proxies across the region, from Hezbollah in Lebanon to the Houthis in Yemen, as well as other groups based in Syria and Iraq.

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