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October 23, 2012 11:45 am
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U.S., Israel Launch Largest-Ever Joint Defense Exercise

avatar by Jacob Kamaras / JNS.org

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Israeli Defense Forces Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, U.S. Navy, wave to onlookers at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem on Feb. 15, 2010. Photo: U.S. Navy.

The largest-ever joint defense exercise between the United States and Israel kicked off on Sunday and is lasting for three weeks in the Jewish state.

Austere Challenge 12 (AC12), an air and missile defense training exercise, will involve 3,500 U.S. military members and another 1,000 from the Israel Defense Forces, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

Both countries are testing a wide-range of operational air-defense systems, as well as those still in their planning stages, including the Israeli “Arrow 2″ and “Arrow 3″ anti-ballistic missile systems; the American “Thaad” (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system to shoot down short, medium, and intermediate ballistic missiles) system; Israel’s “Patriot” surface-to-air missile array; Israel’s “Magic Wand” system (designed to intercept medium-to long-range rockets and slower-flying cruise missiles), and even Israel’s “Iron Dome” system (designed to intercept and destroy short-range rockets and artillery shells), which has already proven its effectiveness in the Gaza arena.

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“I think it’s a very significant commitment and I’m very pleased that the United States is doing this, it’s a big event,” David Ganz, national president of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) and a resident of Belmont, Mass., told JNS.org. “I think that a lot can be learned on both sides, from the American side and the Israeli side.”

Israel and the U.S. have held a number of joint air defense training exercises. The last exercise to grab headlines worldwide was code-named “Juniper Cobra,” in 2009.

AC12 was originally scheduled for last spring but was postponed over regional tensions with Iran. While the Iranian nuclear threat continues, an IDF spokesman told the Jerusalem Post that the drill was “unrelated to any pinpoint developments in the region.”

Other ongoing security concerns for Israel include instability at its border with Egypt amid the era of newly elected Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza, the “Arab Spring” and the Syrian civil war.

David Harris, president of the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC), said in a statement that the drill is “proof of the unprecedented security cooperation taking place between the United States and Israel.”

“Through this drill and numerous others, President Barack Obama has proven yet again the he and his administration are committed to Israel’s security and to supporting the unbreakable bond our two countries have forged,” Harris said.

Obama has so far refused to set the “red lines” for military action against Iran that have been requested by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The president and his administration have repeatedly said there remains time to resolve the Iranian issue through diplomacy and economic sanctions. On Saturday, the New York Times reported that the U.S. and Iran have agreed for the first time to one-on-one negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. The White House denied the report.

U.S. and United Nations sanctions “have not, to date, accomplished their core strategic objective of compelling Iran to verifiably limit its nuclear development to purely peaceful purposes,” a recent Congressional Research Service study said. The sanctions are, however, taking their toll on the Islamic Republic’s economy, with the Iranian rial currency dropping 40 percent.

“The [AC12] joint exercise comes when Iran is under greater pressure than ever before to make concessions to its nuclear program,” Gerald Steinberg, a political science professor at Bar Ilan University, told Bloomberg Businessweek. “This drill sends a message that the pressure will continue, and that despite strategic disagreements between Israel and the U.S. the alliance remains strong, particularly with respect to any Iranian effort to retaliate.”

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