PM: 'We have partners in the sky and on the ground'

IDF holds joint air drills with US, simulating strikes on Iran and proxies

After army chief Kohavi’s visit to US, fighter jets and refuelers simulate long-range flights and ‘an operational scenario’; Lapid observes drill from IAF control center

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

The Israel Defense Forces on Wednesday published footage and details of a series of joint aerial exercises it held with the US military this week, simulating strikes against Iran and its regional terror proxies.

In a statement, the IDF said that during drills, which took place over Israel and the Mediterranean Sea, four IAF F-35i fighter jets, accompanied four American F-15 aircraft and an American KC-135 aerial refueling aircraft, refueled several IAF F-16i fighter jets.

The IDF said the drills also “simulated an operational scenario and long-distance flights.”

“The Intelligence Directorate conducted an extensive simulation that replicated a campaign against distant countries,” the IDF said, apparently referring to Iran. “This exercise tested the IDF’s abilities at gathering intelligence, researching and outlining targets, and making intelligence available to the operational forces.”

“These exercises are a key component of the two militaries’ increasing strategic cooperation in response to shared concerns in the Middle East, particularly those posed by Iran,” the IDF added.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid observed part of the drill on Wednesday from the IAF’s underground control center, his office said in a statement.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, and IAF chief Tomer Bar showed Lapid the various scenarios being drilled, and they discussed the Iranian threat, it said.

An American KC-135 aerial refueling aircraft refuels IAF F-16i fighter jets during an exercise over Israel, November 30, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

“The strategic cooperation with the United States and other countries strengthens the IDF’s capabilities in the face of challenges in the Middle East, chiefly Iran,” Lapid said. “We have partners in the sky and on the ground, but we also have the right to act as we see fit and defend the State of Israel.”

The joint drill was agreed upon during IDF chief Aviv Kohavi’s trip to the US last week.

The IDF said Kohavi told American defense officials in Washington that the two militaries must accelerate joint plans for offensive actions against Iran.

Last Thursday, he said joint activities with the US military in the Middle East would be “significantly expanded.”

“In order to improve our capabilities in the face of challenges in the region, joint activity with the US Central Command will be significantly expanded in the near future,” Kohavi said in remarks provided by the IDF after he returned to Israel following the trip.

“At the same time, the IDF will continue to act at an accelerated rate against the entrenchment of the Iranian regime in the region,” he added.

Israeli F-35i and American F-15 jets hold an exercise over Israel, November 29, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

Kohavi held meetings with senior American officials over five days, focused on the Iranian threat.

“During the discussions, it was agreed that we are at a critical point in time that requires the acceleration of operational plans and cooperation against Iran and its terrorist proxies in the region,” he said last week.

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.

But that disagreement has been less relevant lately, as nuclear talks have fizzled and the US has chosen to focus on addressing the ongoing protests in Iran against the regime.

Israel has been pushing for the US to prepare military contingency plans in order to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Biden has said he is prepared to use military force if necessary, but still prefers to exhaust the diplomatic route first.

This September 1, 2014 file photo, shows a nuclear research reactor at the headquarters of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

In light of 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.

While Iran long has maintained its program is peaceful, non-proliferation experts warn Tehran has enough 60% 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.

The official Washington visit was Kohavi’s final scheduled one as chief of staff, as his tenure is set to end on January 17.

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