The US and Israel are preparing for a large-scale joint military exercise in May, just as the interim deal signed between Iran and the P5+1 is set to expire, according to a high-ranking Israeli officer quoted by a major US media outlet.The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity to Time magazine, said the training exercise would send the message to Israelis and Iranians that a military strike option remained viable should Tehran fail to comply with international demands to significantly limit its nuclear program. “It’s going to be big,” he said of the scheduled training.A spokesman for the US European Command said the exercise was planned irrespective of events unfolding in the region, according to the report. “I think we’re still in the process of deciding the scale of the exercise,” says Capt. John W. Ross.Until then, while negotiations over a comprehensive deal take place over the next six months, Israel will remain openly critical, the Israeli officer told Time. “The strategic decision is to continue to make noise.”Israel, the US, Greece and Italy have been engaged in an unprecedented joint air drill in southern Israel in recent days, codenamed Blue Flag. The drill, which shut down two-thirds of Israel’s skies and included 60 fighter aircraft in the air, simulated a multilateral strike against an enemy country equipped with a modern air force, an active air defense and aerial terror capacities. The US Ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, insisted it had nothing to do with Iran, however. Standing alongside an F-16 together with the ambassadors of Italy and Greece on Tuesday, Shapiro said that the joint exercise offers “the opportunity to drill real world scenarios so that in the event we would have to operate together we have the ability to do so,” but added that Blue Flag is “not tied to any specific events.”
Iran is currently enjoying a “window” of time before the six-month deal signed in Geneva early Sunday goes into effect. For now, the Islamic Republic is not bound to take any credible steps toward disabling its ability to produce a nuclear weapon, the US State Department acknowledged Tuesday.State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that the six-month interim period, during which Iran would take steps to rein in its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, had not yet begun. Furthermore, there are still a number of details to be worked out, she said, without specifying what points had yet to be finalized.A joint Israeli-US exercise would serve to allay fears that the US has taken the military option off the table, according to the Israeli officer speaking to Time.“The wind from the Americans into the Israeli sails is, ‘We will maintain our capability to strike in Iran, and one of the ways we show it is to train,’” he was quoted as saying. “It will send signals both to Israel and to the Iranians that we are maintaining our capabilities in the military option. The atmosphere is we have to do it big time, we have to do a big show of capabilities and connections.”
Rebecca Shimoni Stoil contributed to this report.