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One of the Israeli leaders that we met over the recent Congressional Tour was Minister of Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer. The Minister of Strategic Affairs has three areas of responsibility:

[1] Iran

[2] Abraham Accords Countries and

[3] the U.S.

Each of these responsibilities is a full-time job. It is not for naught that Dermer is sometimes referred to by Israelis as the “De Facto Foreign Minister.”

The topic that Dermer focused most upon was the Iranian situation. First, some background is necessary. Nuclear weapons are typically made from Uranium, a rare element that occurs naturally. Not all kinds of Uranium can be used in a nuclear weapon. A particular “isotope,” called “Uranium-235,” is required. Uranium-235 is made from garden-variety Uranium (Uranium-238) through the use of centrifuges, machines that spin at a speed of thousands of miles an hour. The process of converting Uranium-238 into Uranium-235 is called “enrichment.” Low-enriched Uranium, consisting of between 3-5% Uranium-235, is used as fuel in nuclear power plants. In order to use Uranium in a nuclear weapon, it must be enriched to at least 90%. The goal of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), otherwise known as the “Iran Deal,” was to limit Iranian enrichment of Uranium to 3.67%. After the U.S. pulled out of the JCPOA in 2018, Iran has continued its Uranium enrichment unimpeded. Now here is the problem: The enrichment of Uranium becomes easier as the Uranium becomes more enriched. For example, the effort required to take the Uranium from 3% to 20% is about 90% of the effort required to take it to weapon-grade (90%). Iran openly admitted that they reached 60% enrichment in April 2022, meaning that the time remaining until nuclear breakout is now measured in months. The Iranians have been completely open about their intentions of delivering a nuclear weapon onto Israel.

The Iranian threat to Israel is credible: it is clear and present and eminently existential.

The U.S. can support Israel in addressing the Iranian threat by implementing a “credible threat” of its own, the idea being that the deterrence created by that threat would persuade the Iranians to cease their Uranium enrichment activities. One way to do this is to openly support an Israeli strike against Iran in order to prevent Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold. Support can be offered in a number of ways. On one end of the spectrum, Congress could issue a resolution stating that the U.S. would support Israel were she to use force to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon. Nevertheless, words, at the end of the day, are words, full of sound and fury and with dubious significance. At the other end of the spectrum, the U.S. could use force of its own, openly engaging in joint maneuvers with Israel, suggesting to the Iranians that if things were to go south, then the Iranians would be facing the combined forces of the two powerful allies.

There is another way that the U.S. can implement a credible threat without putting American soldiers in harm’s way. The mission of a tanker aircraft is to refuel other aircraft in order to increase their range and / or endurance. The Boeing KC-46 is the world’s newest and best tanker aircraft. While it is based on the venerable 767 passenger jet, the KC-46 is equipped with an advanced flight deck and modern avionics. In earlier tankers, the person doing the refueling had to lie on the floor and manually steer the tanker’s nozzle into the refueling aircraft’s fuel tank, while both aircraft were buffeting around the sky at speeds of up to 600 mph. The KC-46 uses advanced computer vision and virtual reality to get the job done more safely and more efficiently. While the KC-46 has not yet reached Initial Operational Capability (IOC) because it cannot yet refuel all of the aircraft it was designed for, 59 of them are already flying with the US Air Force. One of these aircraft was on display last week at the Avalon Airshow in Australia, where I took a selfie with it.

The Israel Air Force (IAF) has recently ordered two KC-46’s to refuel its F-15, F-16 and F-35 fleets. If these Israeli aircraft are ever tasked to perform bombing missions far beyond the border, the KC-46 will be a critical component of those missions. The aircraft are due to arrive in Israel sometime in 2025 and until then, the IAF will continue to use its small fleet of Re’em tankers, based on the nearly 70-year old Boeing 707. Imagine what would happen if the U.S. decided to base two of its KC-46 tankers in Israel tomorrow morning? Basing the aircraft in Israel could serve a number of purposes, such as training future IAF operators or refueling any American aircraft that happen to be in the neighborhood. Or for refueling Israeli fighter bombers on a deep strike mission. Now imagine that the two KC-46 tankers are parked at Ben Gurion airport – part of the airport is operated by the IAF – such that every passenger jet that lands in Israel can see them as clear as day. The signal that this would send to Iran would be unmistakable: The U.S. is willing to position on Israeli soil critical assets that could potentially support a strike against the Iranian nuclear infrastructure. This would encourage the mullahs in Iran to think long and hard about continuing their enrichment activities. This would truly be a credible threat.

Wishing you a quiet week,

Ari Sacher

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