The Israel Defense Forces and the U.S. Army launched four Patriot missiles into the Mediterranean Sea on Monday, as part of a joint military exercise conducted by the two countries.
The missiles were launched from the Palmachim Air Force base in central Israel, near the cities of Rishon Letzion and Yavne.
The two militaries will carry out further similar launches as part of the drill, simulating the interception of aircraft or missiles penetrating Israeli air space. The ongoing drill is considered the largest joint exercise ever carried out by the two countries.
The drill is meant to simulate an extensive war in the Middle East that would require the United States to intervene and provide Israel with further defense to intercept missiles.
The current drill will be conducted over the course of three weeks. Throughout that time, batteries for the Patriot Pac-3, the most advanced model of the American-made missile, will be stationed across Israel. The American Aegis guided missile cruiser will also be anchored off the coast of Israel as part of the drill.
The missile interception drill is considered an integral part of the general exercise. The Israeli and American forces will practice identifying targets heading toward Israel, in order to decide which means should be used to intercept them and to activate the defense system as quickly as possible, before they can land on Israeli territory.
Patriot missiles were used during the last joint drill carried out by the Israeli and American armies two years ago as well, and succeeded in intercepting small unmanned drones.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Monday during the drill that the joint exercise reflected the profound cooperation with the Americans, and was aimed at making the system suitable to contend with possible future situations.
"These are very important times for advancing our missile defense coordination in the face of future tests, and also for ongoing activity against Hamas and the terror organizations in Gaza, which is likely to worsen and expand," he said.
The joint exercise is simulating the possibility of wide-ranging rocket fire on Israel, both from nearby enemies and more distant ones, and the possibility of a war with Iran and Hezbollah.
The defense establishment believes that there are 60,000 missiles in Lebanon. Five thousand rockets are in Hezbollah hands and could reach the area between Hadera and Gedera, with another few hundred able to reach the south of the country, according to Barak.
The defense minister also related to the rocket bombardment on the south over the last few days. At a seminar Sunday evening in memory of Moshe Dayan at Tel Aviv University, Barak said, “The Gaza Strip constitutes a significant challenge, at whose center lies firepower, including the threat of rockets that can reach the Dan region.”
After the firing exercise, the defense establishment will conduct another round of tests, simulating the possibility that more advanced defense systems, including the Arrow 3 and Magic Wand systems, which have not yet been used in combat, would take part in confronting rocket barrages. As part of the exercise, the Defense Ministry’s Israel Missile Defense Organization (“Homa”) will also examine the ability of the systems to work even if their computer links are down, which could happen in the event of a cyber-attack against Israel’s missile defense systems that succeeds in disrupting communication.
Admiral James G. Stavridis, commander of the United States European Command (EUCOM), wrote last week as part of the summary of the exercise that the two sides had worked hard to create real intelligence during the exercise, and to simulate the short time frames that would have to be dealt with during a missile confrontation. It was clear, he noted, that more resources would need to be invested in order to ensure the greatest possible deterrence time.
This exercise, named Austere Challenge 12, is one of a series of joint exercises the two countries have conducted over the past decade. This year the exercise involved both the IDF General Staff and EUCOM. The exercise itself focused on defense against missile and rocket attacks, and with “threats from near and far,” as a senior IDF officer taking part in the exercise described it.
Some 2,000 IDF soldiers participated, along with 2,500 American soldiers, many of whom participated in exercise simulations from remote locations in Europe and the United States. “The purpose of the exercise is to strengthen the relationships and to tighten cooperation between the militaries, from the level of chief of staff down to the soldiers in the field,” the senior officer said.
Last November the defense establishment conducted a test of a rocket system in the area of the Palmahim Air Force Base, as part of the evaluation of a new ballistic missile being manufactured by the defense industry that could carry a nuclear warhead. The trail of fire that the missile left in its wake was clearly seen throughout the region.