Joint Israel-US air defense drill to begin missile training

Juniper Cobra 16, a massive, joint Israeli-American air defense exercise is scheduled to culminate next week with a simulation of a wide-scale missile strike on Israel.

Israeli Air Force officials declined to elaborate on the exact nature of the scenarios included in the drill, saying only that “all relevant scenarios” were being considered.

Planned nearly 18 months in advance, Juniper Cobra 16 is the latest in the series of biennial, five-day combined air defense drills that have been held by the American and Israeli air forces since 2001.

As part of the exercise, over 1,700 American soldiers, airmen, sailors and marines are training alongside some 1,500 Israeli Air Defense Command personnel. The drill includes Israel’s Arrow, David’s Sling and Iron Dome defense systems, as well as several American defense systems, such as the Aegis missile system, the THAAD (terminal high altitude area defense) anti-ballistic missile system and Patriot PAC-3 batteries launchers.

U.S. 3rd Air Force Commander Lt. Gen. Timothy Ray, who heads the U.S.-Israel Joint Task Force for Air and Missile Defense, and Commander of Israel’s Air Defense Forces Brig. Gen. Tzvika Haimovich briefed reporters on the drill Thursday.

“This is our nation’s premier exercise in this region. It’s EUCOM’s [U.S. European Command] highest priority exercise in 2016,” Ray was quoted by Defense News as saying.

“The purpose of this exercise is to improve interoperability of our air defense forces and our combined ability to defend against air and missile attacks. Our presence and participation here increases military readiness … and just as importantly, it signals our resolve to support Israel and strive for peace in the Middle East.

“As we look at what we’ve done in the past, there has been a marked improvement in our technology, tactics and procedures as we work together. We’ve improved our organizational structure in the US so we can transition from joint defense of Israel to a Joint Task Force. … This allows us to do a better job,” the visiting general told reporters.

Haimovich noted that 2016 “marks a decade to the Second Lebanon War. We have significantly improved both our defensive and offensive abilities. The threats will be significant, but the way we are prepared today will ensure a better response to threats from both the north and the south.”

Commenting on recent threats by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah to target Haifa Chemicals’ ammonia processing and storage facility — a longtime focus of environmental, industrial, and security concerns — a senior IAF official said the fact that the Shiite terrorist group has threatened a sensitive facility in Israel was “nothing new.”

“Our current defense capabilities are much better than they were a year ago, five years ago and 10 years ago. However, we know future scenarios will be more complex than what we saw in the Second Lebanon War or in Operation Protective Edge,” he said.

“Even if we double the number of interceptors and [defense] systems, there’s no such thing as a hermetic seal. Some rockers and missiles are bound to hit Israel. Our job is to minimize the damage, intercept the larger projectiles and defend strategic assets. You can’t intercept everything.”