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Drilling with US troops, IDF officer warns rockets on Israel unavoidable

At major excercise for 3,200 US and Israeli forces, general says anti-missile system will keep state functioning in wartime, but is not impenetrable

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

A Patriot anti-missile system in Israel (Shay Levy/Flash90)
A Patriot anti-missile system in Israel (Shay Levy/Flash90)

Israel’s missile defense network, though advanced and capable, will not be an impenetrable security blanket for the country in the next conflict, a senior IDF officer warned Thursday during a joint Israeli-American exercise.

“There is no hermetic defense or total security that will intercept everything fired at Israel. In the next real war, rockets will fall on the State of Israel,” Brig.-Gen. Tzvika Haimovich, head of the army’s Aerial Defense Command, told reporters during a press conference for the Juniper Cobra exercise.

However, Haimovitch noted, “We will know how to give superior defense, that will mitigate that damage, that will preserve the capabilities of the IDF and IAF, and that will preserve the ability for the public and the government to function.”

Haimovitch’s words came amid one of the IDF’s most important and high profile exercises of the year, the Juniper Cobra, which kicked off earlier this week. This will be the eighth exercise of its kind since the JC program started in 2001.

Over the next few weeks, over 3,200 soldiers from the IDF and United State’s European Command (EUCOM) will train in missile defense strategies and tactics, officials said.

Lt.-Gen. Timothy Ray of the US military addresses reporters as IDF Brig.-Gen. Tzvika Haimovitch looks on during a press conference as part of the Juniper Cobra exercise at the Hatzor Air Base in central Israel on February 25, 2016. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)
Lt.-Gen. Timothy Ray of the US military addresses reporters as IDF Brig.-Gen. Tzvika Haimovitch looks on during a press conference as part of the Juniper Cobra exercise at the Hatzor Air Base in central Israel on February 25, 2016. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

“This is our nation’s premier exercise in this region and EUCOM’s highest priority exercise in 2016,” Lt.-Gen. Timothy Ray, head of the US Third Air Force, told reporters.

Juniper Cobra 2016 is slated to be larger than the last exercise, but still smaller than Austere Challenge 12, a 2012 drill involving thousands of troops from both sides, according to DefenseNews.

The majority of the exercise will be done through computer simulation, but some aspects of the missile defense drill will be practical. The goal of the exercise is two-fold, officials said.

“This exercise increases our military readiness, but just as importantly it also signals our resolve to support Israel,” Ray said.

The US has either jointly developed or financed all three tiers in Israel’s missile defense program — Iron Dome (short-range missile interceptor), David’s Sling (medium range) and Arrow (long range).

This summer will mark a decade since the 2006 Second Lebanon War, in which Katyusha rockets rained down on northern Israel, giving this year’s Juniper Cobra exercise additional importance.

However, Ray stressed, the exercise had been planned over a year and a half in advance and is “not related to any particular event or development.”

During the past decade, Haimovitch said, Israel has increased its missile defense capabilities, against short, medium and long-range attacks.

A Hezbollah fighter stands behind an empty rocket launcher, May 22, 2010. (AP/Hussein Malla)
A Hezbollah fighter stands behind an empty rocket launcher, May 22, 2010. (AP/Hussein Malla)

“I think they’ve been 10 meaningful years. We’ve experienced Operation Pillar of Defense, Operation Protective Edge, and we’ve definitely improved our defensive and offensive capabilities,” he said.

“On the other hand, the threats will also be more serious,” Haimovitch said. “But the way that we have prepared today gives and will give a better response to northern threats, southern threats and combined threats.”

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