For the 2nd time in a month, IDF fighter jets escort US bombers in the region

For the second time in a month, the military said on Thursday that Israeli F-15 fighter jets were escorting US B-1 bombers across the region, in an unspoken threat against Iran.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, the fighter jets accompanied two B-1B heavy bombers and a US KC-10 refueling plane into Israeli airspace as they headed west from the Persian Gulf.

“The joint flight demonstrates our continued cooperation, which is crucial for the security of Israel and the Middle East,” the IDF said in a statement.

The IDF shared photographs of the flight, showing the US bombers – capable of carrying heavy anti-bunker bombs that would be needed for a strike on Iran’s largely underground nuclear facilities – alongside the F-jets. 15 Israelis.

Late last month, Israeli F-15s escorted a B-1B bomber as it headed for the Gulf.

The escort missions come as Israeli and US officials increasingly threaten to act against Tehran’s nuclear program, ahead of the resumption of indirect talks with Iran aimed at reviving the officially known 2015 nuclear deal. under the name of the Common Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Also on Thursday, the navies of Israel, the United States, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain announced that they had launched a joint exercise in the Red Sea, in another apparent threat to their common adversary, Iran.

The exercise comes just over a year after Israel normalized relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, a move believed to have been prompted in large part by countries’ shared concerns over Iran and its ambitions. regional. Although Israel has conducted exercises alongside the United Arab Emirates in the past, the exercise represents the first-ever public military cooperation between Israel and Bahrain.

The joint exercise serves as a direct response to the Iranian navy‘s presence and aggression in Middle Eastern waters, a senior Israeli navy official said on Thursday.

“This presence is something that we need to push back as much as possible from the State of Israel, the Red Sea, areas that interfere with our freedom to navigate… to do that, we need to strengthen our partnerships,” said the senior officer to journalists, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Since February, Iran and Israel have been accused of engaging in what analysts have called a naval “shadow war,” in which ships linked to each nation have been attacked in the waters around the Gulf. during direct exchanges.

A US Navy Martin drone flies over Gulf waters as Royal Bahrain Naval Force (RBNF) Abdulrahman Al Fadhel participates in a joint naval exercise between US 5th Fleet Command and Bahraini forces on October 26, 2021 (Mazen Mahdi / AFP)

Israeli officials have explicitly threatened a military strike on Iran’s nuclear program, while the Americans have discussed the issue more cautiously, referring to “other options” beyond diplomatic negotiations to stop them. atomic aspirations of Tehran.

Earlier this year, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi announced that he had asked the military to start developing new attack plans for such an operation, and last week, the government has reportedly allocated billions of shekels to make these plans viable.

In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly in September, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that “Iran’s nuclear program has reached a turning point, as has our tolerance. Words do not stop the centrifuges from spinning… We will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.

The Times of Israel has learned that the Israeli Air Force plans to start simulating strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities in the coming months and that aspects of the Israeli Air Force strike plan, which is still in the “draft” stage, could be ready within a short period of time, while others would take more than a year to be fully usable.

Israel has twice carried out airstrikes on the nuclear programs of enemy nations, bombing the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981 and that of Syria in 2007.

However, an attack on Iran‘s nuclear program would have to be much more complicated, as Tehran expanded its facilities across the country, buried them deep underground, and funded a number of powerful proxies across the region who would likely retaliate. against Israel if such a strike is to be called.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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