US, Israel to show off in biggest-ever drill

US, Israel to show off in biggest-ever drill

US, Israel to show off in biggest-ever drill

A Patriot surface-to-air missile battery deployed on Mount Carmel, Haifa, in 2012. Israel and the United States will hold a joint military exercise simulating a variety of long and short-range missile attacks that Israel could face. EPA photo

The United States and Israel are set to launch a major military exercise in a show of unity against Iran’s nuclear program at a time when Israel faces rocket attacks out of Gaza and missile threats from Syria and Hezbollah militants in Lebanon.

The three-week exercise in Israel, the largest the allies have ever held, will simulate a variety of long and short-range missile attacks that Israel could face during a regional conflict, said the commanders in charge. “This is the largest exercise in the history of the longstanding military relationship between the United States and Israel,” said 3rd Air Force Commander Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, who is overseeing the drill along with his Israeli counterpart Brigadier Gen. Nitzan Nuriel.

Three-week drill

“This exercise will improve the cooperative missile defense of Israel and will promote regional stability and help ensure a military edge,” Franklin told reporters in a teleconference.

The air defense drills, dubbed “Austere Challenge 2012,” will unfold later this month and last about three weeks, with 3,500 U.S. troops and 1,000 Israeli forces taking part, officers said Oct. 17. The elaborate exercise is taking place at a politically-charged moment, amid speculation about a possible Israeli pre-emptive attack on Iran. The drill’s “scenario is to deal with threats from all fronts,” Nuriel said on Oct. 17.

When asked whether it intends to send a message to Iran, which has warned of an all-out war should Israel try to strike its nuclear facilities, Nuriel said: “Anybody can take any type of message from this exercise. The fact that we are practicing together and working together is a strong message by itself,” he said. In a more guarded response, Franklin said the exercise “is not there to send a message” and that it had been in the works for more than two years.

The U.S. will spend $30 million and Israel about 30 million shekels ($7.90 million) on the exercise. The weapons will include U.S. Patriot missile batteries and an AEGIS ballistic missile defense ship, along with a multi-tiered missile defense system that Israel has been developing. Also at least one U.S. Navy ship will dock at Haifa. All but one of the launches will be simulated and Martin Dempsey, the U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will observe part of the drill.

An unarmed and unidentified drone was shot down by the Israeli air force Oct. 6 and later Lebanon’s Hebollah claimed responsibility for the drone strike.

Nuriel confirmed that the air defense forces would also practice dealing with the threat of a hostile drone, such as the one sent by Hezbollah Jerusalem Post reported. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Oct. 16 that his country would weigh military action if it suspects Syria’s chemical weapons might fall into the hands of terrorist organizations. “Israel will consider a military operation if it feels there is a fear that chemical weapons will leak to terrorist groups like Hezbollah,” Netanyahu said.