Israel holds military drills amid Iran tensions

Israel holds military drills amid Iran tensions
Israel's air force conducted exercises over the Mediterranean and warships held Red Sea drills this week to prepare for 'scenarios' against Iran
3 min read
Israel is staunchly opposed to the 2015 nuclear deal [Getty]

Dozens of Israeli fighter jets conducted exercises over the Mediterranean and warships held Red Sea drills this week, the army said Thursday, as it readies for different "scenarios" against Iran.

The two arch-enemies have been locked in a shadow war that comes amid tensions over stalled efforts to revive a deal meant to ensure Iran is unable to develop a nuclear weapon.

Israel is staunchly opposed to the 2015 nuclear deal and has vowed to do whatever it takes to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb.

"We continuously are preparing and training for many scenarios including threats from Iran," said an Israeli military statement on the exercises, part of which were conducted jointly with Cyprus.

"Dozens of Israeli Air Force fighter jets conducted aerial drills over the Mediterranean Sea to practice a long-range flight and striking distant targets," it said in the statement issued on Wednesday.

It said aircraft had "simulated a long-range flight, aerial refuelling and striking distant targets" during military exercises held on Tuesday.

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The drills were conducted during the "Chariots of Fire" exercise which was supposed to have been held in May 2021 based on the scenario of a conflict with the Palestinians, but it was postponed by an 11-day war with Gaza's Islamist rulers Hamas.

On Thursday, the Israeli military said personnel from "missile ship and submarine flotillas" had completed a "complex and lengthy training drill in the Red Sea".

"This extended training drill simulated various scenarios, including achieving maritime superiority and maintaining freedom of manoeuvering in the area," it quoted navy commander-in-chief David Saar Salama as saying.

The Iran nuclear deal has been hanging by a thread since 2018, when the United States under then-president Donald Trump withdrew from it unilaterally and imposed sanctions on the Islamic republic.

'Shadow war'

Iran, which denies seeking a nuclear weapon, has retaliated since 2019 by rolling back its nuclear commitments.

Talks on reviving the accord have stalled, and Iran warned on Wednesday of a response to any "unconstructive actions" taken by the UN atomic watchdog after the agency reported traces of nuclear material at undeclared sites in the Islamic republic.

Last week, the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency said it estimated Iran's stockpile of enriched uranium had grown to more than 18 times the limit laid down in the accord.

Cyprus said it took part in part of the Israeli exercises, stressing they were not aimed against any third party.

Its defence ministry said the drills indicated "the excellent relations between the Republic of Cyprus and Israel in defence and security".

The Cypriot foreign ministry said they were "based on fictitious scenarios" and "not targeted against any other country in the region".

"This is the peak of one of the biggest and most extensive drills we've held in years," Israel's Defence Minister Benny Gantz said Tuesday after a one-day visit to Cyprus.

The so-called "shadow war" between Israel and Iran has seen a spate of attacks on ships from both sides that they have blamed on each other.

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps seized two Greek-flagged oil tankers in Gulf waters on Friday, in a move condemned by Athens as "tantamount to acts of piracy".

Nine Greeks and a Cypriot had been on board at the time. Iran said they were in "good health" and had not been arrested.

The ship seizures came days after Athens said it would deliver Iranian oil it had taken from a seized Russian ship to the United States.