Israeli F-35 jets escort US bombers in show of force to Iran
Stealth fighters fly alongside B-52 strategic bombers moving through Israeli airspace as they head back from Persian Gulf
Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.
Israeli F-35i fighter jets escorted two American B-52 bombers through Israeli airspace on Thursday, in an apparent show of force to Iran amid tensions in the region.
The bombers, assigned to the US Central Command, were heading back from the Persian Gulf.
“The flight took place as part of the increasing cooperation with the US military, which is a significant component of the national security of the State of Israel, maintaining regional stability and thwarting regional threats,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.
In a video published by the IDF, an Israeli pilot can be heard saying over the radio to the American pilots: “This is the Israeli Air Force. Welcome to Israel, we hope you have a safe flight.”
Washington has frequently dispatched B-52 bombers to the region as hostilities simmered between the US and Iran. The last such flyover was in September.
Israeli jets escorting the American bombers have become a regular fixture in the skies of the Middle East as tensions between Tehran and the West have risen amid an attempt to negotiate a refreshed nuclear agreement.
In the past, F-16 or F-15 jets would escort the bombers. Thursday’s flight marked the first time Israeli F-35 stealth fighter jets were escorting US aircraft, according to the IDF.
The US Central Command was expanded last year to include Israel, a move seen to encourage regional cooperation against Iran under former US president Donald Trump.
European Union-sponsored talks have been ongoing for over a year to bring the US back into the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
The deal, signed between Iran and the US, UK, France, Germany, China and Russia, has unraveled since the Trump administration pulled out in 2018. The US reimposed stiff sanctions and Iran responded by dropping many of its own commitments to the pact while also ramping up its uranium enrichment to levels far beyond the agreement’s limits.
Iran now enriches uranium up to 60 percent purity — a level it never reached before, and a short, technical step away from 90% enrichment. While Iran long has maintained its program is peaceful, nonprofileration experts warn Tehran has enough 60%-enriched uranium to reprocess into fuel for at least one nuclear bomb.
Israel has long pushed the US to prepare a military option, and US President Joe Biden said in July that he would be prepared to use force if necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.