Israel is reported to have carried out a large military exercise that
could have been practice for an attack against Iran's nuclear
facilities. Officials in Israel have refused to confirm or deny the
report which appeared in The New York Times. Robert Berger reports from
the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.
The New York Times reported Friday that more than 100 Israeli F-15 and F-16 warplanes staged a maneuver over the Mediterranean and Greece in the first week of June. The warplanes flew more than 1,400 kilometers, about the distance from Israel to Iran's nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz. Quoting U.S. officials, the report said the exercise included refueling in midair and helicopters capable of rescuing downed pilots.
According to The Times, the Israeli military would only say that the air force "regularly trains for various missions in order to confront and meet the challenges posed by the threats facing Israel."
Israel and the United States believe Iran is developing nuclear weapons, though Tehran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. The Iranian president has threatened to wipe the Jewish state "off the map," and that has raised speculation about an Israeli pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.
"It's a very plausible scenario," said Israeli analyst Alon Pinkas. "And I would not rule a military strike against Iran, I would not rule it out."
The Israeli air force destroyed Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1981. But that was just one site, and Pinkas says the situation in Iran is much more complicated.
"In terms of the military capabilities, I think Israel is limited in its ability to hit and strike effectively the entire array of Iran's nuclear program, because it is defused, it is decentralized, it is clandestine and it is underground," he said.
The Times quoted an anonymous Pentagon official as saying that the purpose of the exercise was two-fold: to hone the air force's abilities and to demonstrate to the U.S. and others that Israel might take action on its own if international sanctions against Iran fail.
It is seen as a last resort, but Israeli officials say there is a military option.