In signal to Iran, Israeli jets again escort US bombers through region

F-16i fighters jets fly alongside B-52 strategic bombers flying through Israeli airspace as they head to Persian Gulf

Israeli F-15 fighter jets escort an American B-52 bomber through Israeli airspace en route to the Persian Gulf on September 4, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)
Illustrative: Israeli F-15 fighter jets escort an American B-52 bomber through Israeli airspace en route to the Persian Gulf on February 14, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

Three Israeli F-16i fighter jets escorted two American B-52 bombers Sunday as they made their way through Israeli airspace en route to the Persian Gulf, in a show of military might to Iran.

“The flight was held as part of close cooperation with the US military, which represents a significant element in ensuring the security of the State of Israel’s airspace and the Middle East,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.

The bombers took off from the Royal Air Force base at Fairford, England, and flew over the eastern Mediterranean, the Arabian Peninsula and the Red Sea in training missions together with Kuwaiti and Saudi warplanes, before departing the region, the US military said.

“Threats to the US and our partners will not go unanswered,” Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, the top US Air Force officer in the Middle East said in a statement. “Missions like this … showcase our ability to combine forces to deter and, if necessary, defeat our adversaries.”

Although the US military’s Central Command did not mention Iran, Washington has frequently dispatched B-52 bombers to the region as hostilities simmered between the US and Iran. The last such flyover was in June.

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.

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.

Last week US aircraft manufacturer Boeing signed a contract with the US Department of Defense to supply Israel with four KC-46 refueling planes. The multi-role aircraft makes mid-air refueling possible for fighter jets and other aircraft, but can also be used for military transport.

For Israel, the aircraft are seen as necessary to conduct potential major strikes against targets in Iran, some 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) from Israel and far outside the normal flight range of Israeli jets.

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% purity — a level it never reached before that is a short, technical step away from 90%. 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.

This photo released by the US Air Force shows a B-52H Stratofortress assigned to the 5th Bomb Wing, Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, flying over the Middle East on Sept. 4, 2022. (Staff Sgt. Charles Fultz/U.S. Air Force via AP)

Israel reportedly believes the US and Iran are within weeks of reviving the nuclear deal, despite Washington saying Tehran’s latest response in negotiations was “not constructive.”

During their phone call last week, Prime Minister Yair Lapid urged US President Joe Biden to prepare a military strike against Iran’s nuclear program, telling him that “only a credible US military plan will ensure the Iranians don’t try to cheat” if a nuclear deal is revived, Channel 12 reported.

Israel has long pushed the US to prepare a military option, and Biden said in July that he would be prepared to use force if necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

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