In recent months verbal tensions in the middle east been rapidly escalating, with both Iran and Syria once again in the Pentagon's crosshairs (just last week the WaPo reported that the US is considering new military action against Syria), and it increasingly appears that it is only a matter of time before the next military conflict. And in advance of the next middle-eastern war, U.S. and Israeli forces are training to one day fight alongside one another to defend Israel against missile attacks from across the region.
According to the Associated Press, nearly 5,000 Israeli and American troops have been training together in Israel for such a scenario. The “Juniper Cobra” exercise includes field training, computer simulations and live-fire drills of sophisticated missile-defense systems. About 2,500 American forces are participating in the drill, which began on March 4 and will run through the end of the month.
“We will practice, train shoulder to shoulder, the same as we will fight in crisis times,” Brig. Gen. Zvika Haimovich, chief of Israel’s air defense command, told reporters at a briefing at the dusty Hatzor air base in southern Israel.
Israel has made missile defense a priority since Saddam Hussein bombarded the country with 39 Scud missiles during the 1991 Gulf War. Today, Israel believes that the threat is even greater, noting that Hezbollah is now believed to possess well over 100,000 rockets and missiles capable of striking virtually anywhere in Israel. Meanwhile, Gaza’s Hamas rulers are said to have a material arsenal of rockets, and Iran has developed long-range missiles that can reach Israel.
In advance of a possible war, Israel is looking back at the 2006 month-long war with Hezbollah, which rained over 4,000 rockets into Israel while Hamas and other groups in Gaza have fired thousands of rockets into Israel from the south. In an unprecedented military incident, last month, Israel intercepted an Iranian drone launched from Syria during a clash that caused an Israeli F-16 warplane to crash, and Israel shot down a Syrian anti-aircraft missile last year.
Haimovich said Juniper Cobra is not aimed at any particular adversary. Instead, it is meant to simulate “very complex scenarios” that include simultaneous attacks from enemy countries and militant groups.
“We practice that because this is a real scenario,” he said, noting that threats include multiple salvos, more accurate rockets and missiles and a “multidirectional threat.” “Those are our main assumptions,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s from south, north, east or others.”
What is ironic is that Israel hardly needs the US: the nation, which often is happy to fire the first shot and then "retaliate" in "defense" as its neighbors dare to defend themselves, has developed a multilayer system of missile defense.
This includes the “Arrow” system, which can intercept long-range missiles before they enter the atmosphere...
... the “David’s Sling” system for medium-range threats and the “Iron Dome,” which has been successful at intercepting short-range rocket fire. Israel also uses the American-made “Patriot” system.
So why the joint defense drills with the US (aside from the fact that more than 20 U.S. states are involved in the production of Israel's missile defense system, of course)?
The chief of Israel’s air defense command said the cooperation with the Americans provides additional depth to its “tool box.”
There is precedent for such cooperation. During the 1991 war, American Patriot missile batteries were deployed to Israel to defend against Iraqi Scud missile attacks. Since then, with generous US assistance, Israel has become far more self-reliant.
Furthermore, talking to the AP, Lt. Gen. Richard Clark, commander of the U.S. troops, said American forces are ready to deploy in Israel at Israel’s request. Once Israel gives the green light, he said American forces could start moving from Europe within two or three days.
Juniper Cobra has taken place every two years since 2001, adjusting each time to cope with ever-shifting battlefield. With literally “thousands of threats” to prepare for, Clark said the drill is an opportunity for the two allies to improve communication and coordination.
“The ballistic missile defense mission is a very difficult one, very technical one, and it requires precise integrated effort to make it work, and that’s what we’re developing here,” he said.
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Meanwhile, as the US and Israel conduct joint drills for an inbound missile attack, earlier this week Iran successfully demonstrated the test of a Russian-made missile defense system. The IRNA news agency said the military launched the sophisticated S-300 system during a recent military exercise named Damvand, named after Iran's highest mountain. State TV posted videos online of the missiles being launched from the back of trucks in Iran's central desert.
🎥اولین فیلم از آزمایش سامانه موشکی S300 در رزمایش دماوند pic.twitter.com/qcy2kkires— خبرگزاری فارس (@FarsNews_Agency) March 4, 2017
The local media reported the system, which has a range of 200 kilometers (125 miles), targeted various flying objects including a ballistic missile and a drone.
The air defense system was finally delivered by Russia in February after years of delay. Iran had been trying to acquire the system in response to repeated threats by Israel to bomb its nuclear facilities, but Russia had held off delivery of the 750 million euro ($800 million) project for years, in line with UN sanctions imposed over the nuclear program.
A deal under which Iran limited its nuclear activities in return for the lifting of sanctions went into force in 2016, triggering tightened trade ties with Russia. Just 18 months after the deal was signed, Iran tested several missiles despite fresh US sanctions on Iranian interests.
Air defense commander General Farzad Esmaili told state television that a domestically manufactured air defense system dubbed Bavar 373, which was "more advanced than the S-300," would be tested very soon. "The S-300 is a system that is deadly for our enemies and which makes our skies more secure," he said.
And with Iran now in possession of some of the most modern Russian Surface-to-Air missiles, and threatening to tip the scales of what until now was undisputed Israeli air superiority, we expect to soon hear the Israeli wardrums beat louder than ever before.