Israel holds flight exercise ahead of Iran talks
JERUSALEM (AP) — In an apparent message to Iran, the Israeli military said Thursday it had carried out a “special long-range flight exercise” and posted rare footage of the drill online.
The military said its squadrons practiced refueling planes in midair this week and tested the air force’s ability. The accompanying footage shows a tanker plane refueling a fighter jet midair, a key part of any long-range operation.
The release of the video comes just days before Western powers are to open new talks with Iran over its disputed nuclear program.
The U.S. and its allies accuse Iran of using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to develop nuclear weapons. Israel has repeatedly warned that it would be willing to take military action if necessary to stop Iran from going nuclear.
The talks on Iran’s nuclear program will be held next week with the five permanent U.N. Security Council members — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France — plus Germany, collectively known as the P5+1.
President Barack Obama disclosed in an interview with The Associated Press last Friday that U.S. intelligence agencies believe Iran continues to be a year or more away from building a nuclear weapon, in contrast to Israel’s assessment that Tehran is closer.
In recent speeches, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned against letting Iran drag the world along for talks while it continues to pursue a bomb. He’s been on a media blitz of late to warn the West against President Hassan Rouhani’s softer tone, which he dismissed as a trick aimed at removing crippling economic sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear program.
Israeli military officials said the drill took place over Greece, a key regional ally. The military has done similar drills in the past but releasing the footage appears aimed at sending a message to Iran before the talks that a viable military options remains.
Israel views a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat to its very existence, citing Iran’s repeated calls for Israel’s destruction, its long-range missile program and its support for violent anti-Israel groups like the Hezbollah in Lebanon.