Israel and the United States, amid growing tensions with Iran, will simulate interoperability between missile defense systems this week during the biennial Juniper Cobra missile defense exercise.
The exercise, set to simulate a response in the event of war between Israel, the Islamic republic, Syria and Hizbullah, will begin on Monday and end on Friday. More than 1,000 American troops from the European Command in Stuttgart, Germany have deployed in Israel for the exercise - mostly in the Negev - in addition to some 15 missile ships, some of them carrying the Aegis ballistic missile defense system.
Adm. Mark Fitzgerald, commander of the US Navy's Sixth Fleet, will oversee the exercise alongside senior officers from EUCOM and the US Missile Defense Agency. On the Israeli side, the commander of the exercise will be the new head of the Israel Air Force's Air Defense Division, Brig.-Gen. Doron Gavish.
On Friday, Iranian cleric Mojtaba Zolnour, who is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's representative in the Revolutionary Guard, said that if a US or Israeli missile lands in Iran, Iranian missiles will hit Israel in retaliation.
"Should a single American or Zionist missile land in our country, before the dust settles, Iranian missiles will blow up the heart of Israel," Zolnour was quoted as saying by the state IRNA news agency.
In March, Iran's deputy army chief made similar remarks, warning that his country would eliminate Israel if it attacked the Islamic republic.
"Should Israel take any action against Iran, we will eliminate Israel from the scene of the universe," Gen. Muhammad Reza Ashtiani said at the time in Teheran.
Ashtiani claimed Israel was "very vulnerable" and dismissed allegations that Iran was worried about Israeli maneuvers.
"Due to its special conditions, Israel is very vulnerable in the region," he said. "The aggressors will face a crushing response."
The Juniper Cobra exercise will include the Arrow missile defense system as well as three American systems - the THAAD, Aegis and PAC-3 - that will all be deployed in Israel for the duration of the exercise.
The purpose of the exercise, defense officials said, was to ensure that if there were a need, the Israeli Arrow 2 ballistic missile defense system would be capable of working with American systems that might be deployed here to bolster Israeli defenses.
Israel is in the midst of developing a multi-layered missile system that starts with the Arrow for long-range missiles; the David's Sling for medium-range missiles, that is currently under development and will be operational in a few years; and the Iron Dome to counter short-range rockets, which will be deployed along the Gaza border in the coming year.
According to some media reports, Juniper Cobra will involve limited live fire from the Israeli and US defense systems. Israeli defense officials would not confirm the reports, but said that it was possible that, following the exercise, the US would decide to leave in Israel some of the systems, most likely the Patriot PAC-3 defense system.
Expectations in Israel are that the US will deploy several Aegis ballistic missile ships - which are capable of intercepting ballistic missiles - in the Mediterranean and Red seas. Israel is already home to the advanced X-Band radar that the Bush administration gave as a farewell gift last October.