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Israel to launch major exercise this spring simulating strike on Iran

Dozens of planes to participate in the drill, which is due to take place over the Mediterranean

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Israeli fighter jets performing an aerial show at a graduation ceremony at the Hatzerim Air Base in the Negev desert, December 26, 2018. (Aharon Krohn/ Flash90/ File)
Israeli fighter jets performing an aerial show at a graduation ceremony at the Hatzerim Air Base in the Negev desert, December 26, 2018. (Aharon Krohn/ Flash90/ File)

The Israel Defense Forces will hold a large-scale exercise over the Mediterranean in the spring with dozens of aircraft simulating a strike against Iran’s nuclear program, the military confirmed Thursday.

The plan comes as Israeli officials have stepped up their rhetoric against the Islamic Republic, including threatening to take unilateral action against Tehran.

According to a Wednesday report by the Kan public broadcaster, which was confirmed by the IDF the following morning, the drill will be one of the largest ever held by the Israeli Air Force and will include dozens of aircraft, including the F-15, F-35, and F-16 fighters, Gulfstream G550 spy planes, and refueling jets.

The planes will conduct the exercise far out over the Mediterranean Sea to simulate the distance — over 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) — that the aircraft would need to travel in a strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

This would not be the first time that the IAF has conducted exercises at these distances. Earlier this year, Israeli jets took part in a Greek-led exercise over the Mediterranean Sea.

The exercise is scheduled to be held in roughly six months.

Talks between Iran and world powers over curbing Tehran’s nuclear program resumed last week after an extended freeze. Though Israeli politicians have said they would support a significantly bolstered pact, they have also stressed the need for a credible military threat against Iran as a “Plan B.”

In January, army chief Aviv Kohavi announced that he was instructing the military to draw up fresh plans for a strike against Iran’s nuclear program. The IDF received billions of shekels of additional funding to prepare for such an attack as part of the recently passed national budget.

Last month, Kohavi told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the army “is accelerating operational planning and preparedness to deal with Iran and the military nuclear threat.”

Though Israeli officials have stressed that Israel could carry out a strike without coordinating with the United States, some analysts have cast doubts on the IDF’s ability to do so, as several Iranian facilities are buried deep enough underground that it would require particularly powerful munitions, which currently only the US possesses.

Reports in recent weeks have indicated that the army is unprepared for dealing with Iran and months or more away from an actionable plan.

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