The Gathering Storm (Long-Range Training Edition)
Like other modern militaries, the Israeli Air Force routinely conducts long-range training missions, sharpening navigation and air refueling skills that would be needed for a strike against a distant target like Iran.
However, the IAF doesn't always publicize such efforts. For starters, such missions occur on a regular basis, and the Israelis don't see a need to publicize routine training. There's also the matter of operational security; no reason to give your enemies any "free" information.
That's why it was a bit surprising that the Israelis announced a recent long-range training mission in Greece. According to Haaretz, IAF "fighter squadrons" took part in an exercise with Hellenic air and ground units earlier this week. The Israeli Air Force even posted pictures of the event on its website, though the location was not disclosed. Still, it didn't take much effort for the Israeli and Greek media to discover where the IAF was training, and what the drill was aimed at replicating--a mission against Iran:
"Israeli Air Force fighter squadrons have carried out exercises testing their capability to conduct missions at long ranges from base, the Israeli military said Thursday. The drills included air-to-air refueling and dogfights against foreign combat planes.
A report on New Greek TV last Friday, citing the Hellenic Air Force, said the Greek air force took part in the exercises "under a joint military cooperation program."
The drill, with the participation of Israeli F-15s and F-16s and Greek aircraft and naval units, will be carried out in the western Peloponnese and the Myrtoon Pelagos on October 8-9, the report said.
Obviously, the drill sent a not-so-subtle signal to Iran, which recently reaffirmed its "right" to enrich uranium. During his recent speech at the U.N., Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that the "softer" rhetoric of Iran's new leader, Hasan Rouhani is nothing more than a trick, aimed at persuading the west to remove sanctions against Tehran.
Not too many years ago, Israel conducted this type of training in Turkey. But with the rise of Islamists in Ankara, the IAF has found a new partner in Greece. Flying north across the Mediterranean not only gives the Israelis a chance to rehearse long-range missions, they can also train against a NATO air force, operating fourth generation fighters.
But training in Greece offers one more attraction. The Greeks operate the advanced, Russian-made S-300 SAM system, acquired from their Cypriot brethren. And while Moscow has never made good on expected S-300 sales to Iran and Syria, the system will likely show up sooner or later in one--or both--countries. As part of their drills, it's a fair bet that IAF pilots flew against the S-300, allowing them to further refine tactics that would be used when they face those missiles in Syria, or Iran.