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Official: Iran will see what we're capable of doing

Israel, US kick off massive war games in apparent message to Iran

Exercise, dubbed Juniper Oak 2023, involves over 140 aircraft, 12 naval vessels, and artillery systems from both nations drilling in Israel and Eastern Mediterranean

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Israeli F-35 fighter jets escort an American B-52 bomber through Israeli airspace on November 10, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)
Israeli F-35 fighter jets escort an American B-52 bomber through Israeli airspace on November 10, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israel Defense Forces and United States Central Command on Monday kicked off a large-scale joint exercise in Israel and over the eastern Mediterranean Sea, the two militaries announced.

The drill, dubbed Juniper Oak 2023, will involve over 140 aircraft, 12 naval vessels, and artillery systems from both nations and last until Friday, CENTCOM said in a statement.

A senior US defense official told NBC News that the drill was aimed at showing adversaries, such as Iran, that Washington is not too distracted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and threats from China to mobilize a large military force.

“This exercise strengthens collective US-Israeli readiness and improves the interoperability of both forces, thereby contributing to regional stability. Exercises like Juniper Oak show that interoperability and integration represent the improved security in the region,” CENTCOM said.

“The exercise will test joint Israeli-US readiness and improve the operational relationship between the two armies,” the IDF said in a statement.

General Michael Kurilla, commander of CENTCOM, said the drill “enhances our ability to respond to contingencies, and underscores our commitment to the Middle East.”

Juniper Oak 2023 logo. (CENTCOM)

CENTCOM in its statement said the forces would practice joint command and control; air operations in maritime surface warfare; combat search and rescue; electronic attacks; suppression of enemy air defenses; strike coordination and reconnaissance; and air interdiction.

Of the 142 aircraft involved in the drill, 100 are American, NBC reported, including four B-52 strategic bombers, four F-35 fighter jets, 45 F/A-18 fighters, and two MQ-9 Reaper drones.

CENTCOM additionally said F-15 and F-16 fighters, AC- 130 gunships, Apache helicopters, and other rescue and refueling aircraft — including the Boeing KC-46, which Israel is expected to receive in 2025 — would also participate.

The IDF said the aircraft would simulate “various scenarios,” including striking targets simulating naval threats, and US bombers dropping live ammunition in southern Israel.

File: An Israeli Navy Sa’ar 5 corvette approaches a US Fifth Fleet replenishment tanker in the Red Sea, in an image published by the military on April 5, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

According to NBC, the 12 navy vessels involved in the drill include six Israeli Navy ships, and six US ships, the latter of which include a carrier strike group.

The IDF said the Israeli Navy’s Sa’ar 5-class corvettes and a submarine would participate in the drill. The corvettes are to refuel from an American replenishment tanker during the drill “to expand the IDF’s ranges and areas of operation in routine and emergency situations,” the Israeli military said.

CENTCOM and the IDF said the drill would also involve High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, and Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, as well as infantry and special forces.

NBC said approximately 6,400 US personnel are joining 1,100 Israeli personnel for the exercise. Several senior CENTCOM commanders will observe the drill.

The official who spoke with the network said it was “the most significant exercise between the United States and Israel to date,” citing the massive amount of aircraft and personnel involved.

Israeli F-35i and American F-15 jets hold an exercise over Israel, November 29, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

He said that the exercise was not oriented around a particular nation, but regional adversaries like Iran would take notice, NBC reported. “The scale of the exercise is relevant to a whole range of scenarios, and Iran may draw certain inferences from that,” the unnamed official was quoted as saying by the network.

“It’s really meant mostly to kick the tires on our ability to do things at this scale with the Israelis against a whole range of different threats. But, you know, it would not surprise me if Iran sees the scale and the nature of these activities and understands what the two of us are capable of doing,” the source added to NBC.

Israel regularly conducts various training drills with the US military in the country, including air force exercises and missile defense drills.

In November, the IDF and the US military held a series of joint aerial exercises, simulating strikes against Iran and its regional terror proxies.

Then-IDF chief Aviv Kohavi that month said joint activities with the US military in the Middle East would be “significantly expanded.”

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