WASHINGTON - The United States and Israel on Monday launched what has been described as the most significant joint military exercise between the two countries to date.
The massive Juniper Oak 23 exercise, occurring in Israel and the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, comes amid increased chatter about next steps concerning Iran given that any attempts at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal are dormant, by all accounts.
The all-domain exercise, which includes naval, land, air, space and electronic warfare exercises, is aimed at strengthening collective U.S.-Israeli readiness and improving the interoperability of both forces, according to a U.S. Central Command statement.
Approximately 6,400 U.S. personnel and 1,100 Israeli personnel are participating in the exercise, according to an NBC News report. Of the 142 participating aircraft, 100 aircraft are from the U.S. military, including four B-52 bombers, four F-35 fighter jets, 45 F/A-18 Hornet fighters and two MQ-9 Reaper drones. Six U.S. ships (including a carrier strike group) and six Israeli ships will also participate, according to the report.
The six-day exercise will conclude with a live-fire exercise that will expend 180,000 pounds of live munitions while simulating suppression of enemy air defenses, strategic air interdiction and electronic attack, NBC added. The U.S. will reportedly employ four U.S. Army HIMARs rocket launchers, laser-guided bombs and stealthy “low-observable” cruise missiles minus payloads.
“Consistent with CENTCOM’s strategic approach of People, Partners, and Innovation, we are committed to strengthening military-to-military relations throughout the region,” said CENTCOM commander Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla. “Juniper Oak is a Combined Joint All-Domain exercise which improves our interoperability on land, in the air, at sea, in space, and in cyberspace with our partners, enhances our ability to respond to contingencies, and underscores our commitment to the Middle East.”
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The exercise comes days after U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan's visit to Israel, where Iran played a central role during his meetings with Israeli officials. Sullivan's new Israeli counterpart, Tzachi Hanegbi, has previously stated that he believes Netanyahu would order a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities if the U.S. failed to take action amid failure to reach a new nuclear deal.
"During his engagements with the Prime Minister and senior Israeli officials, Mr. Sullivan restated the United States’ unwavering commitment to Israel’s security and to countering the continued threats posed by Iran to Israel, the United States, and the wider region. Mr. Sullivan stressed the U.S. commitment to ensure Iran can never acquire a nuclear weapon," National Security Council Spokesperson Adrienne Watson said.
A senior U.S. defense official told NBC that while the exercise is not oriented specifically around Iran, they would not be surprised if Iran took notice. “The scale of the exercise is relevant to a whole range of scenarios, and Iran may draw certain inferences from that,” the official said. “It’s really meant mostly to kick the tires on our ability to do things at this scale with the Israelis against a whole range of different threats. But, you know, it would not surprise me if Iran sees the scale and the nature of these activities and understands what the two of us are capable of doing.”
"Juniper Oak 23.2 is unprecedented in its scope and scale. It demonstrates the sophistication of U.S. and Israeli forces – it’s no small feat to engage in coordinated joint operations across literally every domain. This exercise will incorporate land, sea, air, space, and cyber operations," Center for a New American Security Senior Fellow Jonathan Lord said.
"There are a couple valuable messages that come from an exercise of this size and scope. Israel’s new and emerging military partners in the Gulf can look at the high-level of interoperability and raw capability of the U.S. and Israeli militaries and see that as a future goal for their own militaries – to be able to execute at that level and with seamless integration. For Iran, the message is clear: the United States and Israel have the capability to existentially threaten this regime if it crosses the Rubicon on nuclear development," Lord added.