Army tests Patriot missile system as Israel-US drill ends
Civilian planes warned to keep away from the Palmahim air base, where air force fires anti-aircraft missile
Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.
Israel launched a Patriot surface-to-air missile from the Palmachim air base in central Israel as part of a “routine exercise” on Monday, the IDF said.
The defense system was activated as the joint Israel-US Juniper Cobra exercise came to a close. The biennial exercise, which kicked off last month, simulated missile and rocket attacks in order to test the preparedness of the IDF and US military against such assaults and also to improve ties between the two armies.
However, the American military was not involved in the launch of the Patriot missile on Monday, the IDF said.
The missile launch “was a routine IAF exercise,” an IDF spokesperson said.
Civilian aircraft landing in Ben-Gurion International Airport were instructed to avoid the airspace surrounding Palmachim, according to reports that the IDF would not confirm.
It was the eighth Juniper Cobra exercise since the program was created in 2001. Some 3,200 soldiers from the IDF and United State’s European Command (EUCOM) took part in the drill.
It was America’s “premier exercise in this region and EUCOM’s highest priority exercise in 2016,” according to Lt. Gen. Timothy Ray, head of the US Third Air Force. “This exercise increases our military readiness, but just as importantly it also signals our resolve to support Israel.”
The US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, Jr., praised the exercise during a trip to Israel last week.
“The feedback I had from the joint task force commander, [Lt. Gen. Ray]… and the rest of the team is they felt pretty good about where they are,” Dunford said in a US Department of Defense statement.
The Patriot missiles were designed by the United States to intercept incoming missiles and aircraft. Though they are an American weapons system, they first saw anti-aircraft combat in Israel during the war in Gaza in 2014, when a battery shot down an unmanned Hamas aircraft over the port of Ashdod.