Israel trained attack on Iran
Israel carried out a major air force exercise earlier this month that United States officials say appeared to be a rehearsal for a potential attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, The New York Times reported Friday.
More than 100 Israeli F-16 and F-15 fighters participated in the exercise, carried out over the eastern Mediterranean and over Greece during the first week of June, US officials said.
The exercise also included Israeli helicopters that could be used to rescue downed pilots. The helicopters and refuelling tankers flew some 1,500 kilometres, which is about the same distance between Israel and Iran's uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, American officials said.
An Israeli military spokesman in Tel Aviv confirmed the exercise, but would give no details, reported dpa.
"The Israeli military regularly trains for various missions in order to confront and meet the challenges posed by the threats facing Israel," he would only tell Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.
The New York Times quoted one Pentagon official as saying the exercise could have multiple purposes: to practice, but also to send a clear message to the US and other countries that Israel was prepared to act militarily if diplomatic efforts to stop Iran from producing bomb-grade uranium continued to falter.
The report comes after Israeli Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, a former defence minister and army chief of staff, warned in an interview with Israel's Yediot Ahronot daily two weeks ago that if Iran did not stop its nuclear programme, Israel would attack.
Mofaz had made the remark a day after the exercise ended, the Times said.
The minister had been slammed by other Israeli politicians, who accused him of "irresponsible populism" and said he made the remark only to gain appeal in the eyes of hardline voters at a time when Israel seems to be heading for early elections.
The Pentagon official told The New York Times that Israel's air forces usually conducts major exercises in the early summer. But, he added, "They rehearse it, rehearse it and rehearse it, so if they actually have to do it, they're ready. They're not taking any options off the table."
The report coincides with an interview with Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak published in Le Monde Friday, in which he reiterated that "no options must be taken off the table" to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb.
"It is a race against time," Barak told the Paris daily in remarks translated into French. "The Iranians are determined to deceive the entire world," he said, adding that first all diplomatic options should be exhausted.