Iraqi Defense Ministry officials told local media on Friday that Israeli warplanes operating out of a US airbase are conducting exercises in their country for a possible strike on neighboring Iran.
According to the sources, the Israeli planes enter Iraq via Jordanian airspace during the night, and then land at a US military base near the Iraqi city of Hadita.
If Israel ultimately decides to launch a aerial strike against Iran's main uranium enrichment facility, taking off from Hadita would cut the flight time to the target down to about five minutes.
Israeli media was unable to verify the Iraqi report, but Israeli officials have admitted in recent weeks to conducting military maneuvers in preparation for a possible strike on Iran, including a major air force exercise over Greece last month.
In response to the Israeli maneuvers, and a parallel US military exercise also believed to in preparation for conflict with Iran, the Islamic Republic this week launched it own massive training exercise. The Iranian maneuvers consisted primarily of testing its long-range ballistic missiles, which Tehran has threatened to unleash against Israel's population centers if a strike is launched against its nuclear facilities.
Israeli defense experts later called Iran's bluff, explaining that based on the photos Iran so proudly distributed to the international media, it was fairly clear that the Islamic Republic is in fact not in possession of a large arsenal of weapons that can reach the Jewish state.
Iran claimed that it had tested a new version of its Shihab-3 missile with an improved range capable of hitting any target in Israel. But the Israelis said the missiles shown in the photos are the old version of the Shihab-3, which has a maximum range just short of the Jewish state.
Furthermore, the older Shihab-3 missiles use a liquid fuel, making them far easier to detect and destroy prior to launch.
In another apparent sign that the situation could be set to escalate significantly, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is scheduled to fly to the US on Monday for a series of meetings at the Pentagon. Barak's visit comes hot on the heels of a Mossad chief Meir Dagan's trip to Washington earlier this week.
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