The Israeli and American armies have been engaged for the past two weeks in a joint exercise that simulates a large-scale missile attack on Israel and fighting on multiple fronts.
The Juniper Cobra exercise, which involves both armies’ aerial defense corps, is held every two years, but is updated each time in light of changing threats and the capabilities of new systems that have gone into use. This year, some 2,500 soldiers from each country are participating.
The last part of the exercise will include live-fire tests of several American and Israeli aerial defense systems, including the David’s Sling system for intercepting medium-range missiles, which went into operation last year.
This will be the first exercise the Israel Defense Forces has ever conducted using David’s Sling.
Other anti-missile systems involved in the exercise include the Iron Dome for short-range missiles, the Arrow for long-range missiles, and the PAC-3 version of the American Patriot system, which is considered one of the world’s most advanced anti-missile systems.
“We’re practicing orders for an emergency, because the forces that are here today are the forces that will be here in wartime,” said Brig. Gen. Zvi Haimovitz, commander of the IDF’s aerial defense corps. “This exercise brings us new challenges. Reality has brought us a multi-front threat, but the combined capabilities of Israel and the United States allow us to meet such a threat.”
Any decision about whether American forces would actually join Israel’s aerial defense network in wartime is a political one; the U.S. government would have to decide whether to send forces and at what stage of the fighting.
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Haimovitz said Israel is ready to deal with a multi-front threat of the kind it currently faces even without help from American missile defense systems, but the Americans could offer very significant assistance.
The goal of the exercise is to ensure that if American forces are ordered to help, they will be able to integrate into Israel’s existing aerial defense system quickly.
“We won’t be the Americans’ commanders in wartime,” Haimovitz stressed. “But Israel is the one which will be responsible for Israel’s aerial defense at any given moment. This cooperation will bring us more opportunities to intercept missiles fired at Israel. It won’t be hermetic, but it’s also not necessary to intercept every missile; not all of them will fall in places earmarked for protection.”
His American counterpart in the exercise, Lt. Gen. Richard Clark, commands the Ramstein Air Base in Germany and is responsible for American aircraft stationed at nine bases around Europe. Clark stressed that the exercise wasn’t simulating any specific threat against Israel. But he said his troops were helping Israel’s aerial defense corps, and the two armies are already ready to work together if necessary.
The personal ties forged by the exercise, he added, attest to the ties between the two countries and America’s commitment to Israel.
Haimovitz also commented on Israel’s interception last month of an Iranian drone in the north.
“This is an example of the core mission of the air force’s aerial defense corps,” he said. “This is a mission we deal with every year and every hour. Our decision to shoot down the drone with a helicopter was because we wanted to leave this device with as little damage as possible. During the interception, the Patriot batteries and an air force jet were also ready, and could have carried out this mission if needed.”