US, Israel launch military exercise to send message to Iran, others

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The United States and Israel began a massive joint military exercise in Israel on Monday to show opponents like Iran that Washington isn’t too distracted by the war in Ukraine and China’s threat to mobilize a major military force, said a senior defense official.

Juniper Oak 23 is “the most important exercise to date between the United States and Israel,” the official said, citing the sheer number of aircraft, extensive coordination with the Israel Defense Forces and complicated live-fire component.

About 6,400 US personnel have joined 1,100 Israeli personnel for the exercise, which will see a total of 142 aircraft deployed. Of these, 100 are US Army aircraft, including four B-52 bombers, four F-35 fighter jets, 45 F/A-18 Hornet fighters and two MQ-9 Reaper drones. Six US ships, including a carrier strike group, and six Israeli ships will also participate.

General Michael “Erik” Kurilla, Commander of US Central Command, said: “Juniper Oak is a combined all-domain joint exercise that enhances our interoperability on land, air, sea, space and cyberspace with our partners. , enhances our ability to respond to unforeseen events and underlines our commitment to the Middle East.”

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“What we think this exercise shows is that we can walk and chew gum at the same time,” said the senior defense official who spoke to NBC News, referring to the focus on China and Europe’s roughly 100,000 military forces to support NATO and Ukraine .

“We still have the excess capacity to be able to pivot to another high-priority area of ​​responsibility and conduct an exercise on this scale.”

The official said the exercise is not targeting any particular country, but that regional adversaries such as Iran will take note.

“The scale of the exercise is relevant to a whole range of scenarios, and Iran can draw certain conclusions from it,” the official said. “It’s mainly designed to get rid of our ability to do things on this scale with the Israelis against a slew of different threats. But you know, I wouldn’t be surprised if Iran sees the magnitude and nature of this activity and understands what the two of us are capable of.”

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Unlike many other military exercises, this exercise is for all domains, meaning it includes naval, land, air, space and electronic warfare exercises. It culminates with a live-fire exercise that expends 180,000 pounds of live ammunition while simulating suppression of enemy air defenses, strategic air interdiction, and electronic assault. The U.S. will use four U.S. Army HIMAR missile launchers, laser-guided bombs, and low-profile “low-observable” cruise missiles minus payloads.

An exercise of this magnitude would normally take a year or more to plan, but it happened within a few months, the official said, not because of an imminent threat, but a period of availability.

“This is a sign that we continue to support Israel at a time when there is much turbulence and instability throughout the region,” the official said. This is an opportunity to show that the US and Israel can work together on a large-scale project. scale in a short time.

The exercise runs from Monday to Friday. The official could not say how Iran might respond to the exercises.

“I suspect the next time they do a military exercise, they’ll say, even though it was planned for months, they’ll say it was in response to this. I mean, they’ll probably do something in the information space.

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The exercise comes as the U.S. military footprint in the Central Command region is smaller than it has been in decades, in part after the 2021 withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and fewer U.S. military personnel left in Iraq. While the Pentagon and Central Command are downplaying the decline, allies in the region worry that the US is less committed to the area.

The senior defense official said this exercise is a signal to other countries that the argument is not true.

“If there is a sense that the Americans are distracted, or the Americans are moving away from the Middle East, and therefore their evil activities have free rein. I think this will discourage them,” the official said.

“I guess Iran will take note of that, but not just Iran, China will take note of that, Russia will take note of that, other people will take note of that.”

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