The United States and Israel launched their largest-ever joint military exercise on Monday, sending a clear signal to Iran and underscoring the strength of their alliance despite concerns. on the composition of the exercise. new government of Israel which includes extreme nationalist and religious extremist parties.
The live-fire exercise, named Juniper Oak, will involve 100 US aircraft and fighter jets, bombers and refueling aircraft flying alongside 42 Israeli aircraft. The USS George HW Bush aircraft carrier strike group will also participate in the exercise, which will cover all areas of warfare including space and electronic warfare.
“We really can’t find another (exercise) that comes close,” said a senior US defense official. Nearly 6,500 American personnel will participate in the exercise, as will more than 1,100 Israeli personnel, the official said.
The exercise comes despite concerns about the composition of Israel’s new government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has appointed ministers once seen as ultra-nationalists of Israeli politics, including the far-right Otzma Yehudit party and the Noam party, opposed to LGBTQ rights.
The US official acknowledged the possibility of disagreement with the newly formed government but emphasized the non-negotiable commitment of the two parties to Israel.
“The security commitment that we have with Israel is not differentiated between specific individuals and specific governments,” the US official said.
In December, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Israeli government would be judged on “policies and procedures, rather than individual character”.
The exercise comes as tensions between the US and Iran remain high. The Biden administration has introduced sanctions against Tehran following a brutal crackdown on protests in the country that has seen protesters executed. Negotiations on a new nuclear deal have also stalled.
Mr. Netanyahu has consistently taken a tough stance on Iran, vowing when his new government was sworn in to “obstruct Iran’s attempt to obtain nuclear weapons”. Just Sunday, Netanyahu said the United States and Israel would hold meetings on Iran in the coming weeks, following a visit by US national security adviser Jake Sullivan.
“I’m impressed that there is a real and common desire to reach an understanding on this issue,” Netanyahu said at the meeting.
The official said the exercise, which marked a major increase in cooperation between the US and Israeli militaries, was swift, especially on an issue of this scale. Normally, such a large exercise involving various forces would take a year or more to plan, but his exercise runs for two months, the official said. Planning began under Israel’s previous Yair Lapid government and ended under the current government.
US Central Command will lead the exercise. Israel was moved to Central Command’s area of responsibility in September 2021 following the announcement of the change at the end of the Trump administration’s term. Despite the changing and evolving relationship between Israel and the Gulf Arab states, none of them will participate in the exercise. Instead, US officials said they would be notified of it after it ended at the end of the week.
“These types of exercises – which CENTCOM regularly conducts with our partners – develop interoperability between military forces,” said General Michael Erik Kurilla, commander of US Central Command. , strengthens its military capabilities and is vital to the security and stability of the region.” in a statement. “The lessons learned from these exercises could be exported to our partners in the region.”
A previous US-Israeli military exercise held in late November was described by the Israeli military, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), as simulating “long-range combat scenarios and long-range flights”. long”, including “campaign against remote attacks”. nations,” a thinly veiled reference to Iran.
The US official stressed that the exercise was not intended to simulate an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, but the official acknowledged that Iran would be watching and taking note.
“I think the scale of this exercise is relevant to a wide range of scenarios and Iran can draw certain inferences from that,” the official said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Iran, you know, sees the scale and nature of these activities and understands what the two of us are capable of doing.”
Although the Biden administration favors a diplomatic solution to Iran’s burgeoning nuclear program, talks on reinstating the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), has stalled. Iran’s violent crackdown on domestic protests and the supply of suicide drones to the Russian military have further dimmed the prospect of restoring the deal.
Israel, which vehemently opposes a return to the JCPOA, has pushed the US to take a more aggressive stance towards Iran and promised action against Iranian forces in the region. The United States has repeatedly promised under Democratic and Republican administrations that Iran will not be allowed to have nuclear weapons.
“We want a more diplomatic outcome,” the US official said, “but we have other capabilities, if needed.”
The exercise also comes as the Pentagon shifts its focus away from the Middle East and Central Asia. The Defense Strategy identifies China as the challenger of the future, while also dealing with threats posed by Russia. The result was a significant reduction in the US military’s footprint in central command. The United States now has about 35,000 troops in the region, a far cry from a decade and a half ago when it had nearly 200,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan alone.
But this exercise is intended to demonstrate the US ability to mobilize large forces into the region in a short time.
“We still have the capacity to be able to move into another high-priority area of responsibility and conduct an exercise of this scale,” the senior US defense official said.