IDF, US wrap up air defense exercise; THAAD anti-missile system to leave Israel
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IDF, US wrap up air defense exercise; THAAD anti-missile system to leave Israel

Air force colonel says Israeli troops learned to integrate advanced American anti-ballistic missile system into Israel’s air defense array

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

  • A THAAD missile defense system. (US Army Europe)
    A THAAD missile defense system. (US Army Europe)
  • The US army unloads a THAAD missile defense system in Israel, March, 2019. (US Army Europe)
    The US army unloads a THAAD missile defense system in Israel, March, 2019. (US Army Europe)
  • The US military deploys a THAAD missile defense system in Israel, March 2019. (US Army Europe)
    The US military deploys a THAAD missile defense system in Israel, March 2019. (US Army Europe)
  • The US military returns a THAAD missile defense system from Israel to its home base, March 2019. (US Army Europe)
    The US military returns a THAAD missile defense system from Israel to its home base, March 2019. (US Army Europe)
  • Israel and American troops participate in a joint air defense exercise in Israel in March 2019. (US Army Europe)
    Israel and American troops participate in a joint air defense exercise in Israel in March 2019. (US Army Europe)
  • Israel and American troops complete a joint air defense exercise in Israel on March 31, 2019. (US Army Europe)
    Israel and American troops complete a joint air defense exercise in Israel on March 31, 2019. (US Army Europe)

The Israel Defense Forces and American military on Sunday completed a four-week air defense exercise that saw the deployment of the United States’ most advanced missile defense system in Israel for the first time.

On March 4, the US European Command (US EUCOM) deployed the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, along with approximately 250 officers and soldiers, in southern Israel.

Since then, some 150 Israeli Air Force personnel, mostly reservists, have trained alongside their American counterparts, learning how to work with the THAAD system, which is designed to intercept short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, and integrate it into Israel’s air defense array, according to Col. Guy Amosi, deputy commander of the IAF’s Megiddo unit, which led the joint exercise.

“The THAAD was deployed in Israel, we did a month of exercises with it. At the end of this month, it will go back to its place, and we will have improved our air defenses,” Amosi told The Times of Israel over the phone, hours before the exercise’s closing ceremony.

“We learned tons,” he added.

This was the first time that the THAAD system has been deployed in Israel. However, one of the X-Band radar arrays connected to the THAAD system has been stationed in Israel for over a decade, providing the Jewish state with an additional early warning system against an incoming Iranian ballistic missile attack.

“I don’t know why [the US decided to deploy the THAAD in Israel]. We got an order that the system was coming,” Amosi said.

Amosi refused to comment on the potential of the THAAD being deployed again in Israel in the future.

At the start of the drill, US EUCOM said the deployment was ordered by acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and was meant to demonstrate America’s “continued commitment” to Israel’s security.

“This deployment incorporates key capabilities, systems and people stationed in the continental United States and Europe, and with our partners in the Israel Defense Force,” EUCOM said in a statement released by the US Embassy in Israel.

According to the colonel, the joint exercise was visited by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, and senior officials throughout the Israel Defense Forces.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, with US Ambassador David Friedman as they tour a deployment of the US THAAD anti-missile defense system, March 6, 2019. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Jerusalem)

Last month, the Israeli and US militaries wrapped up another drill in Israel, a week-long exercise simulating the deployment of American troops to aid in missile defense operations.

Israel and the US also hold a five-day Juniper Cobra combined air force drill every two years. Last year’s drill simulated a massive ballistic missile attack and culminated with live-fire tests of two air defense systems over the skies of central Israel.

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