In the face of Iran’s continued pursuit of a nuclear weapon, Israel and the United States will hold a large-scale missile defense exercise in the beginning of next year aimed at improving operational coordination between both countries’ defense systems.

Called Juniper Cobra, the exercise will be held in early 2012 and will include the Arrow 2 and Iron Dome as well as America’s THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) and the ship-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System. The exercise will likely include the actual launching of interceptors from these systems.

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The Israeli Air Force’s Air Defense Division, the United States Missile Defense Agency and the US Military’s European Command (EUCOM) have held the Juniper Cobra exercise for the past five years. The upcoming exercise though is planned to be one of the most complex and extensive yet.

Last week, Air Force commander in the EUCOM Gen.Mark Welsh visited Israel for talks with Israel Air Force commander Maj.-Gen. Ido Nehushtan, which focused also on the upcoming missile defense exercise. The last Juniper Cobra exercise was held in October 2009.

The purpose of the exercise is to create the necessary infrastructure that would enable interoperability between Israeli and American missile defense systems in case the US government decided to deploy these systems here in the event of a conflict with Iran, like it did ahead of the Gulf War in Iraq in 1991.

“Juniper Cobra shows us how to defend not only with Israeli assets but also with American assets,” Arieh Herzog, head of the Defense Ministry’s Homa Missile Defense Agency, said on Monday at the 2nd Annual Israel Multinational Missile Defense Conference near Tel Aviv.

Herzog, who will step down in January and be replaced by Yair Ramati, corporate vice president of marketing at Israel Aerospace Industries, said that Israel was facing a “growing ballistic missile threat.”

Frank Rose, the US deputy assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, said the US planned to deploy another Aegis missile defense ship in the Mediterranean Sea alongside the USS Monterey, which is already deployed in the region.

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He also said the US was looking to deploy an advanced X-Band radar – similar to the one the US gave Israel in 2008 – in southern Europe.

“Together we can work to protect what our adversaries would put at risk, both now and in the future,” Rose said. “Our mutual commitment to cooperation on missile defense research and development, on deploying proven technologies and weapon systems such as the Arrow, and on gaining operational experience through joint exercises and training, will go far in enhancing Israeli security and our mutual interests, and in further cementing and expanding our partnership.”

Ramati said at the conference that Israel is speeding up the development of the Arrow-3, which is supposed to serve as the upper tier missile defense system against Iranian long-range ballistic missiles.

The Arrow-3 is not expected to become operational until 2015 and the Defense Ministry will hold a first flight test of the new missile by the end of the year.

Col. Shahar Shohat, commander of the Israel Air Force’s Wing, responsible for Israel’s missile defense systems, expressed hope that the country’s enemies will realize that their investment in rockets and missiles is not worthwhile due to the deployment of new defense systems.

“This could happen if they understand that we have effective systems and they will not be able to attack what they want to attack,” he said.

Shohat added that the Iron Dome succeeded in preventing the IDF from needing to enter into a large-scale offensive in the Gaza Strip in April, following an escalation that included an anti-tank missile attack on a school bus that killed 16-yearold Daniel Viflic. Iron Dome succeeded in intercepting eight rockets fired from the Gaza Strip.

“The presence of the Iron Dome provided a response by intercepting the rockets and gave the leadership room to maneuver and make decisions without being under public pressure,” he said.

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