Top US general in Europe pledges support for IDF during joint air-defense drill
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Top US general in Europe pledges support for IDF during joint air-defense drill

Head of US EUCOM meets with IDF brass at biennial Juniper Cobra exercise, in which American, Israeli troops prepare for massive missile attack

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

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, left, shakes hands with the commander of the US European Command Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti at the IDF's Tel Aviv headquarters during the joint US-Israeli Juniper Cobra missile defense exercise on March 11, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, left, shakes hands with the commander of the US European Command Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti at the IDF's Tel Aviv headquarters during the joint US-Israeli Juniper Cobra missile defense exercise on March 11, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The commander of American military forces in Europe on Sunday pledged to support the Israel Defense Forces in times of crisis. He was visiting the army’s Tel Aviv headquarters, during a joint US-Israel missile defense exercise, known as Juniper Cobra.

“The US is deeply committed to the defense of Israel. We will continue to work alongside the IDF to promote stability throughout the region, not only for the purposes of this exercise, but in the event of any real-world contingency,” said Commander of the European Command (EUCOM) Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti.

He made his remarks during a meeting with IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and other senior army officers, including Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Hertzi Halevi, head of IDF Operations Directorate Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin and head of the Planning Directorate Maj. Gen. Amir Abulafia.

“During the meeting, the commanders discussed the current situation in the Middle East and the evolving threats, as well as opportunities, including the strategic military cooperation,” the IDF said in a statement.

Senior Israeli and American military officers meet at the IDF’s Tel Aviv headquarters during the joint US-Israeli Juniper Cobra missile defense exercise on March 11, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The American general arrived in Israel on Friday to oversee the Juniper Cobra exercise, in which thousands of American and Israeli troops will take part over the course of several weeks.

“General Scaparrotti’s visit proves once more the commitment of the United States to the security of the State of Israel. This is the ninth time that the IDF and the US military have trained together in the Juniper Cobra exercise. This training is intended to improve our ability to defend against missile and rocket threats and to advance the capabilities of both forces against various threats,” Eisenkot said during the meeting.

It is Scaparrotti’s third official visit to Israel.

Last Sunday, the two militaries launched the nearly-month-long exercise, which will simulate an extensive missile attack on the State of Israel. The biennial drill is this year’s premier exercise for the EUCOM and one of the most important for the IDF, with approximately 2,500 soldiers from each army taking part.

“For more than four weeks, they will train shoulder to shoulder, the same as we would fight in times of crisis. It’s not just about an exercise,” Brig. Gen. Tzvika Haimovitch, Israel’s air defense commander, told reporters last Thursday.

Israel considers ballistic missiles, specifically precision-guided ones, to be one of the most significant threats facing the country, in the form of the Hezbollah terrorist group’s massive arsenal of short- and medium-range rockets, as well as the intercontinental ballistic missiles that Iran is working to develop.

American, Israeli troops deploy a Patriot missile defense battery, during the 2018 Juniper Cobra air defense exercise in March 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

During Juniper Cobra, the countries’ top air defense systems — for Israel the Iron Dome, David’s Sling, Patriot and Arrow; for the US the Aegis, the Patriot, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and TPY-2 radar system — will be tested, though for the most part only in computer simulations, officials said.

According to Israeli and American military officers, the purpose of the exercise, which has been running since 2001, is twofold: share and swap knowledge on missile defense, and improve ties between the two militaries in order to develop a common understanding in the case of war.

This year’s exercise, with its nearly 5,000 participants, will be the largest Juniper Cobra, beating out the 2016 drill, in which some 3,200 soldiers took part, by a wide margin. It also appears to be larger than the 2012 joint US-Israel Austere Challenge ballistic missile exercise.

Not all of the 2,500 US troops taking part in Juniper Cobra are physically present in Israel; a portion of them are participating from American bases in the United States and EUCOM’s base in Germany, US officials said.

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