March 31, 2022 | Real Clear Defense

In Iniochos Exercise, Israel Rehearses Iran Strikes as Saudis Observe

March 31, 2022 | Real Clear Defense

In Iniochos Exercise, Israel Rehearses Iran Strikes as Saudis Observe

The Greek-hosted Iniochos 2022 military exercise began this week, with Athens welcoming military contingents from the United States, Israel, Cyprus, France, Italy, and Slovenia. The exercise, which also includes observers from more than 10 other countries, will provide participants with an opportunity to work with partner forces and hone their ability to detect and strike air, ground, and maritime targets.

While this year’s exercise is largely similar to last year’s, two elements stand out. First, Saudi Arabia is sending observers for the first time publicly to the exercise. Second, Israel is using Inochios 2022 to rehearse some of the combat capabilities it would need to conduct strikes against Iran’s nuclear program.

The Inochios annual military exercise, led by the Hellenic Air Force, runs from March 28 to April 7 this year. The exercise provides participating air forces with an opportunity to practice advanced air-ground-maritime integration in what the Hellenic Air Force calls “one of the largest exercise areas in Europe.”

That is one of the reasons the United States Air Forces Europe (USAFE) sent F-15E Strike Eagles from the 48th Fighter Wing based at the United Kingdom’s Lakenheath airbase. The Iniochos exercise’s sophistication and large training area enable the American pilots to fulfill important annual training requirements.

In addition to the F-15Es, USAFE sent joint terminal attack controllers, or JTACs, from the 4th Air Support Operations Group and an element of the 52nd Fighter Wing Intelligence stationed at Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany. USAFE also sent an MQ-9 Reaper stationed in Italy.

The exercise will also feature the French Rafale fighter aircraft and airborne early warning system, the Italian Tornado fighter aircraft, the Slovenian PC-9 training aircraft, and the Cypriot AW139 helicopter. Israel, for its part, sent the F-16, G550 surveillance plane, and Boeing 707 air refueler.

The list of countries that sent observers is equally robust. They include Albania, Austria, Canada, Croatia, Egypt, India, Kuwait, Morocco, North Macedonia, the United Kingdom — and Saudi Arabia.

Unlike Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, which established diplomatic relations with Israel in 2020 as part of the U.S.-brokered Abraham Accords, Saudi Arabia still does not have formal diplomatic relations with Israel. That makes Riyadh’s decision to observe the Iniochos exercise publicly noteworthy, given that Israeli forces are participating again this year.

Saudi Arabia increasingly acknowledges in public what it has long understood in private: Tehran and its terror proxies — not Israel — represent the real threat to regional peace and security.

Perhaps that is why Riyadh was willing to have Israeli and Saudi fighter jets escort (albeit at different times) a U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer Bomber on a patrol mission that circumnavigated the Arabian Peninsula in October 2021. Earlier this year, a common Saudi-Israeli perception of the Iranian threat may have also motivated both Israel and Saudi Arabia to participate in the U.S.-led International Maritime Exercise, the Middle East’s largest maritime exercise.

The more Israel, the United States, and its Arab partners conduct military exercises together, the more they can strengthen the readiness of their individual forces, share intelligence on threats, and develop common best practices for countering Tehran-supported terrorist groups that endanger Israelis, Americans, and Arabs alike. This is especially important as Iran and its proxies have stepped up attacks in recent months, from drones targeting Israel to strikes on Saudi energy infrastructure to attacks on ships at sea. In fact, the Iranian-backed Houthis just conducted a three-week-long assault against Saudi Arabia, demonstrating the danger Tehran poses to regional stability.

The second noteworthy feature of the Iniochos exercise also relates to Iran. As Washington and Tehran appear close to a new nuclear deal that many worry would provide Iran with a patient pathway to a nuclear weapons capability, the Israel Defense Forces remain focused on building the capability to successfully strike against Iran’s nuclear program if necessary.

Iniochos provide an opportunity to do just that. The distance from Israel to Greece is roughly equivalent to the distance from Israel to Iran. By sending the F-16, G550 surveillance plane, and 707 air refueler to Iniochos 2022, Israel gains a valuable opportunity to practice conducting long-range airstrikes that require air refueling support.

When Israel hones and demonstrates that capability, it sends a positive deterrent message to Tehran that supports U.S. interests and promotes regional security.

So, while this year’s Iniochos exercise may look relatively mundane on the surface, a careful examination reveals growing Saudi and Israeli concern regarding Iran, as well as a renewed determination to maintain military readiness.

Bradley Bowman is the senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where Ryan Brobst is a research analyst. Seth Frantzman has been covering conflict in the Middle East since 2010 as a researcher, analyst, and correspondent for various publications. Follow Bradley on Twitter @Brad_L_Bowman. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.

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Issues:

Gulf States Iran Iran Global Threat Network Israel Military and Political Power U.S. Defense Policy and Strategy