US Army officers walks on a Patriot anti-missile battery site during a joint Israeli-US air-defence exercise dubbed 'Juniper Cobra', in Tel Aviv October 27, 2009. REUTERS/Ziv Koren/Pool .
(photo credit: REUTERS/ZIV KOREN)
Israel is gearing up for an extensive aerial drill with troops from the US European Command set to begin in early March.
The ninth annual Juniper Cobra drill scheduled to take place from March 4-15 will be the largest IDF and US European Command joint exercise this year, with more than 2,500 US troops deployed in Europe participating alongside 2,000 Israeli Aerial Defense troops, logistics units, medical forces, and additional IDF units, the IDF announced on Thursday.
The last Juniper Cobra, which occurred in June 2016 and was seen as the “premier exercise in this region,” saw over 3,000 American troops taking part. The drill is also considered the “flagship” exercise of the Israel Air Force’s Aerial Defense Division.
Additional joint exercises between Israeli and American troops will continue after the completion of the drill through the end of March, said the IDF’s Spokesperson’s Unit.
The country’s defense establishment has undertaken extensive preparations for the exercise in recent weeks, including the reception of American forces to Israel via both air and sea.
“Juniper Cobra 2018 is another step in improving the readiness of the IDF and the IAF in particular to enhance their operational capabilities in facing the threat posed by high-trajectory missiles,” said Brig.-Gen Zvika Haimovich, the IDF’s Aerial Defense Division head.
“The exercise demonstrates the close and strategic cooperation between the IDF and the US Armed Forces,” he continued, adding that “in the coming weeks we will be dealing with challenging and complex scenarios adapted to Israel’s operational reality.”
In early February, the IDF confirmed to The Jerusalem Post
that the large-scale 12-day drill will simulate a massive missile attack on the home front from both the Gaza Strip and the north and will be led by the Israel Air Force.
The exercise will simulate a scenario in which American forces will be deployed to Israel in order to work alongside the IDF’s air defense force. The troops will practice possible scenarios of missile threats in various sectors, and the simulations will include the use of the Arrow the Iron Dome, Patriot and David’s Sling missile defense systems; the latter was declared operational in April 2017.
Together the systems provide Israel with a protective umbrella able to counter threats posed by both short- and mid-range missiles used by Palestinian terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip and by Hezbollah in Lebanon as well as the threat posed by more sophisticated, long-range Iranian ballistic missiles.
While the IDF stated that the drill, which has been occurring every two years since 2001, is part of the annual training schedule intended to maintain the readiness of troops, it comes amid a war of words between Israel and Hezbollah, which is assessed to have an arsenal of between some 100,000 and 150,000 missiles.
Washington and Israel have signed an agreement which would see the US come to assist Israel with missile defense in times of war, and in September the first US base in Israel was inaugurated in the south of the country.
The “base within a base” is run by the US European Command and includes barracks, offices and support services.
According to Haimovich, it “will improve our abilities significantly. It won’t get us to 100%, but it will get us much closer to achieving important things during war.”