LONDON: Israel has demanded that the US speed up its delivery of refueling planes that could be crucial to launching airstrikes on Iranian nuclear facilities.
But American and Israeli officials have told The New York Times that the aircraft are back-ordered and no delivery is expected before late 2024.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz last week urged a more rapid production of the KC-46 tankers when he met US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and other senior officials in Washington.
Tehran’s nuclear program has improved exponentially since former US President Donald Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, despite Israeli military and intelligence efforts to sabotage Iran’s weapons pipeline through covert attacks on facilities.
Israeli officials have claimed that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has cleared the way for training on aerial attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities while arguing that attempts to renew the deal with Tehran would only lead to the regime enhancing its capability to create a bomb.
The tankers it ordered from the US in March are central to this exercise as they are used to refuel bombers in the air, allowing Israel to fly sorties over Iran and return home in one flight — a capability it currently lacks.
Boeing has received a $2.4 billion contract for eight of the planes, with the first delivery scheduled for late 2024.
But there are competing demands from the US Air Force, which hopes to expand its reach in the Indo-Pacific region as tensions rise with China.
The KC-46 aircraft would hugely improve Israel’s 50-year-old fleet of tankers, which are technically incapable of the mission that Bennett is reportedly planning.
US officials told The New York Times that they do not believe an attack is imminent. They added that Bennett was likely saber-rattling in an attempt to secure tougher terms in an anticipated deal between Tehran and Western powers.