Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Photo by Minister of defense media adviser
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The Israeli and American armies will hold a biennial joint military exercise beginning Sunday, with a focus on training defense troops on dealing with missiles.

The exercise, termed Juniper Cobra, will include simulations of various threats to Israel’s home front. The American troops, who belong to the United States European Command, are required to come to Israel reinforce Israel’s anti-ballistic defense systems.

Some 700 American troops have arrived in Israel for Juniper Cobra, in which more than 6,000 European Command troops will be participating. Two American ships equipped with the Aegis Combat System, which includes technology used to intercept missiles, will also be participating in the exercise from the Mediterranean Sea.

Last week, American Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited Israel along with Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and toured the Hatzor Airbase, where he met with the American and Israeli soldiers who were to take part in Juniper Cobra.

During the visit, Ya’alon told the troops: “We are here to witness what we are talking about when we claim about the unshakable bond between the U.S. as the greatest democracy all over the world, and the state of Israel, the only democracy in our tough neighborhood, the Middle East.” He added that one of Israel’s challenges was “how to intercept rockets and missiles coming from Iran, Syria, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip. We've got a challenge,” he said, “but we can cope with it.”

According to an official statement from the European Command, planning for Juniper Cobra began 18 months ago, and has nothing to do with any specific tensions in the region. The statement added that the purpose of Juniper Cobra, which has been held every two years since 2001, is to test both armies’ joint ability to respond to missile attacks. Israeli Air Force and defense establishment officials said they saw Juniper

Cobra as an opportunity to improve preparedness and coordination with the United States.

American and Israeli officials postponed the 2012 exercise in what was seen as an attempt to reduce tensions with Iran. Toward the end of that year a similar joint exercise, entitled Austere Challenge, took place, during which troops of the Israeli and American armies drilled in intercepting airborne missiles, and a battery of American Patriot anti-ballistic missiles was deployed in north Tel Aviv and in Jerusalem. The main scenario of the 2009 Juniper Cobra exercise was a missile attack on Israel by Iran.