Israel and the US will discuss the possibility of a joint military exercise to prepare for attacks on Iranian nuclear sites, according to multiple reports, just days after Washington and Tehran sat down for renewed negotiations.
The drills will be considered during a meeting between US military officials and Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz scheduled for Thursday, Reuters reported, citing a senior member of the Joe Biden administration.
While the US official declined to discuss details of the potential exercises, a report by Israel’s Kan broadcaster earlier on Wednesday suggested they would involve “dozens” of aircraft – including F-35, F-16 and F-15 fighter jets, reconnaissance planes and refueling tankers – adding that they would be conducted far over the Mediterranean to simulate the distance the jets would have to travel to carry out a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, about 620 miles (1,000km).
The Israel Defense Forces denied a request for comment from Kan, however the outlet said the drills would likely be held sometime in the first half of 2022.
Though Tehran has long insisted that it has no plans to develop nuclear weapons and that its atomic energy program is for peaceful purposes only, the US official went on to say the prospective exercises would prepare for a “worst-case scenario” against the Islamic Republic should it go after the bomb.
“We’re in this pickle because Iran’s nuclear program is advancing to a point beyond which it has any conventional rationale,” the Biden official said, though added that negotiations could still turn back that tide.
The meeting with Gantz will come days after talks between Washington and Tehran resumed following a lengthy hiatus, with the two sides looking to revive a deal signed between Iran and world powers in 2015 that put strict limits on the country’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. Since former US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the agreement in 2018, however, Iran has steadily scaled back its own commitments to the deal, insisting that it would return to its terms only when US sanctions were lifted. Since then, it has gradually boosted its enrichment of uranium, kicking it up to 20% purity last week, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), though remaining far from the 90% or more needed to produce a nuclear weapon.