Israel has asked the United States to accelerate the delivery of refueling aircraft it had purchased that could be needed to attack Iranian nuclear sites, but was told by the Biden administration the first plane likely will not be delivered until 2024, according to a report Tuesday.
The sale of eight new KC-46 Pegasus aerial refueling tankers to Israel was approved by the State Department last March.
Citing American and Israeli officials, the New York Times reported the request was made by Defense Minister Benny Gantz when he met last week with his US counterpart Lloyd Austin in Washington.
US officials reportedly told Gantz the planes were back-ordered but they would work to speed up the delivery.
Funding for the refueling planes is set to come from the military aid package that Israel receives annually from the US.
The newspaper noted that the timing of the delivery is key, with officials in US President Joe Biden’s administration worried that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is seeking to renew the threat of military action against Iran.
It also said the Israeli Air Force was vying with the US Air Force for the planes, with Washington eager to supply the aircraft to its own forces as part of efforts to counter China.
The report noted that the tankers would be a significant upgrade for Israel and that without them, Jerusalem would need to rely on its aging fleet of refueling planes for a strike on Iran, or make a pit stop in Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates, neither of which would want to be linked to an attack on rival Iran.
Current and former officials quoted in the report said Israeli military planners believe that any strike on Iran will likely require multiple sorties against some sites, such as the underground Fordo uranium enrichment facility, necessitating speedy refueling.
US officials told the Times that they did not believe an attack was looming and that Israel’s public preparations for a possible strike could be aimed at putting pressure on Western nations to seek tougher terms in talks on reviving the 2015 deal limiting Iran’s nuclear program.
Israel is vocally opposed to the Iran nuclear deal, which Biden has said he wants to rejoin after his presidential predecessor Donald Trump withdrew the US from the pact in 2018 and reimposed sanctions. Tehran has since steadily increased its breaches of the accord.