US officials: Israeli military exercise was preparation for attack on Iran's nuke plant
The exercise involved more than 100 jet fighters, helicopters, and air-refueling tankers, according to a new report.
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The Times writes that the exercise took place during the first week of June, and was so large as to be nearly guaranteed to be detected by US and other foreign observers, including Iran itself.
More than 100 Israeli F-16 and F-15 fighters participated in the maneuvers, which were carried out over the eastern Mediterranean and over Greece during the first week of June, American officials said.
The exercise also included Israeli helicopters that could be used to rescue downed pilots. The helicopters and refueling tankers flew more than 900 miles, which is about the same distance between Israel and Iran's uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, American officials said.
A Pentagon official, speaking anonymously due to the sensitivity of the issue, told the Times that the high profile of the exercise was not an accident. Rather, it was one of Israel's two intended goals for undergoing the rehearsal.
One Israeli goal, the Pentagon official said, was to practice flight tactics, aerial refueling and all other details of a possible strike against Iran's nuclear installations and its long-range conventional missiles.
A second, the official said, was to send a clear message to the United States and other countries that Israel was prepared to act militarily if diplomatic efforts to stop Iran from producing bomb-grade uranium continued to falter.
"They wanted us to know, they wanted the Europeans to know, and they wanted the Iranians to know," the Pentagon official said. "There's a lot of signaling going on at different levels."
The Times notes that Iran appears to be "beefing up its air defenses" recently in response, and has been buying Russian radar systems and surface-to-air missiles to better protect its nuclear facilities.
Agence France-Presse writes that an Israeli Air Force spokesman neither confirmed nor denied the exercise's existence or its focus on Iran, saying only that "The Israeli Air Force regularly trains for various missions in order to confront and meet the challenges posed by the threats." AFP notes, however, that the same week that the exercise took place, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz told the Yediot Aharonot newspaper that "If Iran continues its nuclear weapons program, we will attack it."