In first, US deploys advanced THAAD missile defense system in Israel

Rocket interceptor units arrive to participate in joint exercise with Israeli counterparts; IDF says deployment is ‘not related to a specific event’

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 deployed in Israel for the first time its most advanced missile defense system as part of an exercise with the Israeli military.

In a statement Monday, the Israel Defense Forces said the United States European Command’s deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) was meant to drill dispatching the system quickly across the world and working together with Israeli air defenses against threats such as long-range ballistic missiles.

“The IDF is working in cooperation with US forces in order to enhance coordination between the two militaries and to strengthen the ability to defend Israeli airspace,” it said.

The military stressed THAAD’s presence in Israel was strictly defensive and “not related to any specific event.”

“The IDF is grateful for this exercise and stands ready to protect Israel’s airspace and civilians against a variety of threats from near and far,” the IDF said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also serves as defense minister, said the deployment was “further evidence of the US’s commitment to Israel’s security.”

“Together with our defense systems we are even stronger in dealing with threats from throughout the Middle East,” he said in a video released by his office.

“Israel-US ties have never been stronger. I welcome the joint drill.”

US European Command (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,” it said in a statement released by the US Embassy in Israel.

The US army unloads a THAAD missile defense system in Israel, March, 2019. (US Army Europe)

The statement said American forces would be stationed in a number of locations throughout the country during THAAD’s deployment to “practice operational procedures for augmenting Israel’s existing air and missile defense architecture.”

“THAAD is the most advanced integrated air and missile defense system in the world, and this deployment readiness exercise demonstrates that US forces are agile, and can respond quickly and unpredictably to any threat, anywhere, at any time,” according to EUCOM.

The deployment of the system comes a week after the Israeli and US militaries wrapped up a week-long drill in Israel 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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