US and Israeli military forces embarked on a massive, joint combat drill on Monday, “the most significant exercise between the United States and Israel to date,” according to a senior US defense official.
“The exercise will test joint Israeli-U.S. readiness and improve the operational relationship between the two armies,” according to a statement released by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
The drill, “Juniper Oak,” will last until Friday and involves 6,400 US personnel, 1,100 Israeli soldiers, 142 aircraft, and 12 naval vessels (6 from the US, 6 from Israel). An anonymous US official said the unprecedented size of the military exercise was meant to show enemies like Iran that the US and Israel are fully prepared to mobilize a show of force should the need arise.
“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,” US Central Command (CENTCOM) Commander Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla said.
This is the third joint exercise between the US and Israel over the past year to focus on the growing threat from Iran, as the Islamic Republic continues to march almost unimpeded toward achieving a nuclear warhead. The drill will involve intelligence sharing and dealing with simulated retaliatory threats coming from the Mediterranean Sea or even closer to home. According to the IDF, the US will drop live ammunition in southern Israel as part of the exercises.
Among the 100 aircraft from the US, there are B-52 bombers, F-35 fighter jets, F-15 and F-16 jets, dozens of Hornet fighters, Apache helicopters, drones, and various rescue and refueling planes, according to the statement released by CENTCOM. The IDF reports that several Sa’ar 5 corvettes (smaller, faster ships) and a submarine would also be participating in the drill.
An unnamed US defense official talked with NBC News and stated that the exercise was not based specifically on a scenario with Iran. However, if the shoe fits, as they say… “The scale of the exercise is relevant to a whole range of scenarios, and Iran may draw certain inferences from that. 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.”