There is more than a hint of disingenuousness to the protestations that last week’s exercise of the entire Israeli Air Force and next week’s national Home Front drill are both routine annual exercises.
Armies, of course, routinely carry out exercises — but part of that routine is to play out certain scenarios, and it is those scenarios which give an indication as to the army’s intentions and concerns.
So what can we learn from the scenarios in these two exercises?
For a start, Iran, as a geographical entity, does not feature in any of them. The air force squadrons did not simulate long-range bombing attacks on Iranian nuclear infrastructure. Neither will any of the cities or towns pretending to be under attack next week be “hit” by a missile fired from the vicinity of Tehran or Isfahan, let alone by a nuclear missile.
There are simple reasons for this. The annual air-force exercise is meant, among other things, to test the capability of the various squadrons and bases to operate under attack and co-operate with each other.
There was no need to use the exercise for training runs on the Natanz reactor — the strategic squadrons are busy doing that all year round as it is. As for the home-front exercise, Israel has declared so many times that it will never allow Iran to achieve a nuclear-military capability that it is not about to practise for such an eventuality, and certainly not with the entire Israeli public looking on.
That does not mean that Iran is not in the crosshairs of the planners of these exercises.
Many Israeli intelligence analysts believe that it is highly unlikely that Iran would actually use a nuclear device against Israel.
Their main worry is that if such a device were to exist in the Iranian arsenal, it would provide Tehran’s proxies in the region with a nuclear umbrella that would embolden them to attack Israel with the slightest provocation.
Those proxies are Syria, Hizbollah and Hamas, with tens of thousands of missiles aimed at Israeli cities and IDF bases.
Iran, which supplied or financed most of these missiles, also sees them as a safeguard against an Israeli strike.
An attack by these latter missiles is the primary scenario to be played out in the two exercises. No future Israeli operation against Iran’s nuclear installations will be complete without also taking care of the shorter-range threat.