March 17, 2023 | Flash Brief

Eyeing Iran’s Nuclear Program, U.S. and Israeli Militaries Train Together in Nevada

March 17, 2023 | Flash Brief

Eyeing Iran’s Nuclear Program, U.S. and Israeli Militaries Train Together in Nevada

Latest Developments

The United States and Israel are conducting the Red Flag-Nellis 23-2 combined aerial military exercise in Nevada, which runs March 12-24. The training comes as the top U.S. military officer in the Middle East, Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, testified on Thursday to the Senate Armed Services Committee that “Tehran can now produce sufficient fissile material for a nuclear weapon in less than 14 days.” The military exercise at Nellis Air Force Base features American and Israeli F-35s and air refueling tankers — just the kind of aircraft that would play an essential role in airstrikes against Iran’s nuclear program.

Expert Analysis

“The American and Israeli militaries are rehearsing the capabilities necessary to strike the Iranian nuclear program, but it is unclear whether Tehran believes Washington has the political will to actually employ those capabilities if push comes to shove. That increases the chance Tehran might decide to roll the dice and sprint to a nuclear weapons capability. The United States and Israel missed an opportunity to refuel Israeli fighters with American KC-46s during the January Juniper Oak exercise. It would be a mistake to miss that opportunity again during Red Flag 23-2.” — Bradley Bowman, Senior Director of FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power

“The credible threat of a military option is necessary to prevent the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism from acquiring the world’s most dangerous weapon.” — Ryan Brobst, Research Analyst at FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power

Red Flag 23-2

The Red Flag exercise emphasizes “readiness for high-end warfighting and strategic competition,” according to a U.S. Air Force press release. The Israeli Air Force tweeted that the exercise will include drills focused on “long-range aerial scenarios, achieving aerial superiority in the region, joint aerial strikes, area defense, interception of enemy aircraft, low-altitude flights and flights in areas abundant with anti-aircraft equipment.”

Juniper Oak

The United States and Israel conducted the Juniper Oak 23 multi-domain military exercise in late January in Israel and the eastern Mediterranean. The Pentagon called the exercise the “largest” and “most significant” bilateral U.S.-Israel exercise in history. The missions practiced in the exercise and the American and Israeli messaging surrounding it made clear that a major objective was to demonstrate the capabilities necessary to conduct a successful strike against Iran’s nuclear program.

KC-46 Aerial Refueling Aircraft

U.S. KC-46 aerial refueling aircraft participated in the Juniper Oak exercise but did not refuel Israeli aircraft. Along with additional steps featured in pending legislation introduced by Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), refueling Israeli aircraft with American KC-46s would help Israelis prepare for the arrival of their own KC-46s and hasten the day when Israel could use the tankers to support combat operations. That would reinforce — not undermine — American diplomacy with Iran. Deputy Commander of U.S. Central Command Lt. Gen. Gregory Guillot expressed support in February for the idea of American KC-46s refueling Israeli aircraft in future training exercises.

Related Analysis

Sen. Cotton Legislation Seeks to Expedite Efforts to Strengthen Israel’s Security,” by Bradley Bowman and Ryan Brobst

Junipers, Oaks, and Killer Tomatoes,” FDD Foreign Podicy podcast guest-hosted by Bradley Bowman and featuring Lt. Gen. Gregory Guillot


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