The exercises cover potential Iranian retaliation to the shelling of its nuclear facilities
For the first time, the Israeli Air Force's (IAF) major 'Chariots of Fire' exercises will include practice drills for a "wide-scale strike in Iran," the Times of Israel reported on Tuesday, citing sources.
The drills over the Mediterranean Sea will begin on May 29th during the fourth and final week of the monthlong exercises.
"In light of growing uncertainty regarding a return by Iran to the 2015 nuclear deal, amid long-stalled negotiations with the United States, the Israel Defense Forces in the past year has ramped up its efforts to prepare a credible military threat against Tehran's nuclear facilities," the newspaper said.
According to the newspaper, a potential strike by Israel on Iran poses several challenges for the IAF: It has to find ways to shell the Iranian nuclear facilities that are located deep underground, to somehow bypass "increasingly sophisticated" Iranian air defenses, and to prepare for retaliation by Iran and its allies.
"The upcoming drill is also expected to focus on preparing for and responding to such retaliation," the report said.
Almost all of the units of the Israel Defense Forces take part in the 'Chariots of Fire' exercises. As Israeli Channel 13 reported on Tuesday, during the Iran-attack simulation, US tankers will practice a midair refueling of Israeli fighter jets.
Earlier that day, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz claimed that Iran "stands just a few weeks away from accumulating fissile material that will be sufficient for a first bomb." He stressed that Iran continues to "accumulate irreversible knowledge and experience" in all aspects related to the advanced centrifuges, and that the price for "tackling the Iranian challenge on a global or regional level" is constantly growing.
Iran has insisted its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi had previously warned Israel that his country's military would strike "the center of the Zionist regime" if Tel Aviv made "the tiniest movement" against Iran.
Meanwhile, talks aimed at restoring the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), known as the Iran nuclear deal, have stalled. Signed by Iran and the US, UK, Russia, France, Germany, China, and the EU, the deal suggested Iran sanctions relief in exchange for a halt to its nuclear program. Former US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the deal in 2018, claiming that Iran was breaching its obligations.
After a year of negotiations in Vienna, a deal appeared close at hand in February. However, Iran demanded guarantees from Washington that any future US president would not withdraw from a new agreement, and asked the US to remove Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps from its list of terrorist organizations. The US has not responded to these requests.
"If the US gives its response to some of the solutions that were proposed, we can be in the position that all sides return to Vienna," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh said on Monday.