The Israel Defense Forces and United States military launched a large 10-day joint missile defense drill on Tuesday, with thousands of soldiers taking part around the world, despite lingering concerns over the coronavirus.
The Juniper Cobra exercise has been held every other year since 2001 and is one of the IDF’s largest international drills. The exercise simulates a large-scale missile attack on the State of Israel, with air defense units from the IDF and US European Command (EUCOM) working together to intercept the incoming projectiles and members of the IDF Home Front Command practicing responses to such an assault.
“The exercise simulates a scenario in which American troops come to Israel and operate alongside the Aerial Defense Array in a mission to defend against missiles and rockets,” the IDF said.
According to the IDF, in total some 3,500 American and Israeli soldiers will take part in the exercise, which will be held in Israel, Europe and the US. Some 600 American troops began arriving in Israel for the exercise over the past few weeks, coming from the US and Germany — where there is a relatively low incidence of the COVID-19 coronavirus — while another 1,900 US military soldiers will participate in the drill from Europe and the US.
Approximately 1,000 Israeli soldiers from the IDF’s Aerial Defense Array, logistics units, medical units and other units in the military will take part in the drill, the IDF said.
The Israeli military said the three main tiers of its anti-missile defense systems would be used in the exercise: the short-range Iron Dome, mid-range David’s Sling and long-range Arrow 2 and Arrow 3.
On Monday, the US and Israel called off a separate joint exercise as the American paratroopers that were due to take part in it had been stationed in Italy, where there has been a significant outbreak of the virus among the general public.
The Eagle Genesis exercise between the IDF’s Ground Forces and US European Command (EUCOM) was set to include American paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade stationed in Italy. As of Monday, 52 people have died in Italy, where there was a sharp jump in diagnosed cases over the weekend.
As a result of the viral outbreak, the Israeli Health Ministry blocked visitors from Italy — along with a number of other countries — and ordered Israelis returning from there to self-quarantine for 14 days.
“In light of instructions from the Health Ministry and the inclusion of Italy in the list of countries from which people arriving [in Israel] must be quarantined, it was decided to postpone the joint exercise between EUCOM and the Ground Forces,” the IDF said in a statement Monday.
A US military official told CNN: “In close coordination with the Israeli government and out of an abundance of caution in the face of the evolving situation with COVID-19, the decision has been made to cancel the exercise. We value our strong partnership with Israel and look forward to continuing training together in the future.”
As the virus spreads across the globe, Israel has tried to prevent it reaching the country, banning entry to visitors from several countries where the disease has taken hold, mostly east Asian nations, as well as Italy.
The Health Ministry has also encouraged Israelis not to travel to those countries and required those returning from them to self-quarantine for two weeks.
The IDF on Monday took the Health Ministry recommendation further and explicitly forbade troops and employees from visiting those countries unless absolutely necessary.
Israel regularly conducts various training drills with the US military in the country, including air force exercises and missile defense drills.
Earlier this month, the IDF confirmed that soldiers from one of the East Asian countries hit the hardest by the disease were allowed to come to the Jewish state and participate in a military exercise with Israeli troops at a base in the south.
After emerging in China late last year., the virus has now infected more than 89,000 worldwide, spread to over 60 countries and is threatening to cause a global economic slowdown.
Europe raised its state of alert on Monday, as the death toll from the new coronavirus epidemic surpassed 3,000 and more people died in China, Iran, and the US.
On Monday, the Health Ministry announced that two more Israelis were found to have the disease, bringing the total to 12 confirmed cases, with no deaths. Both the Israelis were recently in Italy.
Agencies contributed to this report.