After learning earlier in the year that the joint US-Israel military exercise had been cancelled, and then reading that the US was drastically scaling down the number of troops participating in the exercise which had been delayed, it is heartening to hear that generals leading the exercise – the largest such exercise ever – say the troops cutback is insignificant.
The largest ever joint Israeli and American military drill will begin next week, with any reduction in troop size deemed insignificant, the senior US commander of Austere Challenge 12 said Wednesday.
Third Air Force Commander Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, speaking in a conference call, said that the “scale of the exercise and the number of forces participating has remained unchanged,” despite reports that the drill had been cut back by thousands of troops. His counterpart, Brig. Gen. Nitzan Nuriel, the head of the Counter-Terrorism Bureau at the National Security Council and the IDF’s lead exercise planner, said that the “numbers had hardly changed” and that the matter was simply one “of logistics.”
The drill, originally slated to take place months ago, was postponed at Israel’s behest, which created a scheduling conflict for many of the troops who had planned to take part.
In late August, Time magazine reported a reduction in troop levels, when talk of a possible Israeli preemptive strike against Iran was at a peak. A senior Israeli officer told the magazine, “Basically what the Americans are saying is, ‘We don’t trust you.’”
Over 1,000 American troops will take part in the exercise in Israel, Franklin said. The number is down from an estimated 5,000 earlier in the year, according to the Time report. Franklin, without being specific about the initial numbers, said that a total of 3,500 troops would be taking part in the air defense simulation exercise, many from abroad.
The drill will take place amid a cooling of talk of a possible military strike on Iran, after several months of saber rattling.
Both generals stressed that the exercise is meant to reflect reality in the Middle East and is “not related to any specific world events.”
Nuriel added, however, that “the fact that we are working together is a strong message in itself.”
The initial report of the troop reduction came against the backdrop of US concern over a possible unilateral Israeli strike against Iran.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, US Army General Martin E. Dempsey, said at the time that he did not want the US to be seen as “complicit” in an Israeli attack.
The drill will run until after the US presidential elections on November 6 and will simulate many of the aerial threats that Israel faces: a multi-front attack with mortars, rockets, drones and short and long range ballistic missiles.
Nuriel said that the drone element of the drill had been “part of the scenario” well before a Hezbollah-launched drone penetrated Israeli airspace on October 6. “We did not need the real event to know to prepare for it,” he said.
The David’s Sling short range missile protection system will be tested along with multiple Iron Dome batteries, advanced Patriot batteries and Arrow 2, Israel’s medium range missile defense system. Most of the action will be simulated with only a small component of live fire.
The stated goal of the exercise, the seventh such US-Israeli drill, is to “improve interoperability” between the already significantly linked Israeli and American air defense systems.
The generals are no doubt correct in saying that the anti-drone part of the exercise was planned well in advance of the Hezbollah drone that was shot down over the Negev last week, but it is becoming clear that development of new tactics to fight this new danger is becoming ever more vital. This is especially so in the light of (probably spurious) Iranian claims that they have sent several drones undetected into Israel:
A senior Iranian military official claimed Tuesday that Iranian-made surveillance drones have conducted dozens of undetected forays into Israeli airspace from Lebanon in recent years to probe air defenses and gather intelligence.
The Iranian official declined to give further details on the objectives or the capabilities of the drones, including whether they were similar to the drone launched last week by Hezbollah and downed by Israeli jets. It also was impossible to independently verify the claims from the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.
The Iranian official claimed drones made by the Islamic republic have made “dozens of flights over Israel” since the 2006 Second Lebanon War between Hezbollah and Israel. He said Israeli defenses have been unable to detect the surveillance aircraft.
“The one that was shot down last week was not the first and will not be the last to fly into Israeli airspace,” the official said.
But an Israeli security official rejected the Iranian claims, saying last week’s interception of a drone was the first time such an infiltration had occurred. He said Israel spotted the unmanned aircraft well before it entered Israeli airspace, determined that it was not “dangerous” and then shot it down over uninhabited desert according to plan. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because an Israeli military investigation was still under way.
I tend to believe the Israeli official, but on the other hand, saying no Iranian drones have ever been detected over Israel doesn’t exactly prove his point, since Iran claims their drones were undetected!
In even more disturbing and dangerous news, it was reported in Yediot Aharonot that Hamas shot an anti-aircraft missile at an IAF aircraft last week:
An anti-aircraft missile was fired from Hamas-controlled Gaza last week at an Israeli aircraft but missed its target, the Hebrew language newspaper Yediot Aharonot reported Tuesday.
According to the report the missile was smuggled in from Libya. Israeli authorities have worried that the missiles could be used against the Jewish state since an estimated 1,000 of them went missing from Libya’s arsenal in the aftermath of the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.
The Russian made Strela-2 surface-to-air missile system can hit aircraft flying as fast as 1,118 miles an hour and at altitudes up to 7,500 feet.
According to military sources it is believed that after a relative lull in the conflict, Hamas is intending to escalate the conflict with Israel. Such provocations could signal their intent to do so. Commercial aircraft have already been told to avoid flying over Gaza.
Though this was the first report of anti-aircraft fire from Gaza aimed at Air Force personnel, the same type of missile was used by Sinai terrorists last year in a deadly attack on Highway 12, which runs along the Israeli-Egypt border, that killed 6 people.
Times of Israel adds:
Yossi Kuperwasser, who directs the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, says “significant” numbers of weapons have been smuggled into the territory from Libya since the fall last year of dictator Moammar Gadhafi. The country is awash in weapons after the eight-month civil war and has weak central authority.
Against this volatile background it is good to learn that US-Israel cooperation is increasing also on the counter-terrorism front, with a team of US counter-terror experts visiting Israel:
A delegation of 10 senior counter-terrorism experts from the police departments of New York City, Los Angeles, Houston, Austin, Oakland and Montgomery County (MD) are visiting Israel (Oct 13-20, 2012) through Project Interchange, an educational institute of AJC. The week-long educational program will showcase Israeli technological and operational advances in counter-terrorism tactics. Additionally, it will offer the group of assistant chiefs, commanders, captains, and senior analysts an opportunity to exchange information on best practices with their Israeli counterparts.
On the agenda are discussions on countering the financing of terror operations and organizations, cutting-edge counter-terrorism technologies, airport security and profiling, with visits to the Border Guard unit and Megido Prison. Several sessions throughout the week also address broader strategic issues, including Israel’s reaction to homegrown terrorism, security cooperation by the Israeli and Palestinian Authority defense forces, Israeli and Palestinian politics and society and the peace process.
Commander Richard Webb of the Los Angeles Police Department said, “The Israelis are considered world leaders and innovators in counter terrorism and security. My experiences in meeting with the various experts and leaders confirm they not only are experts, they are pragmatic and collaborative. Equally as important they do their duties while vigilantly protecting human rights. I will take many lessons I learned back to Los Angeles. I observed several new techniques for security operations including multilevel security measures at an international airport.”
Assistant Chief Russell E. Hamill of the Montgomery County Police Department, said, “This has been some of the most meaningful training I’ve ever attended. It has demonstrated not only the importance of hardening the country against terror attacks but also of the community in refusing to be terrorized. The Israeli people live that; they refuse to be terrorized. In the battle against terrorism, that’s how you win and the Israelis are winning. They are not victims but survivors.”
According to Captain Brian K. Coyne of the New York Police Department, the Palestinian police chief (responsible for coordination between Palestinian Civil Police and the Israel Police) “was really frank in telling us how people live and the issues they deal with. It’s amazing how people in Israel live with all these issues going on.”
“Countering violent extremist groups requires ongoing collaboration and information sharing and we do this by offering participants exposure to Israeli technological advances and operational tactics, and helping to establish collaborative ties between responsible law enforcement agencies worldwide,” he said.
I hope the US-Israeli military and intelligence cooperation persists and deepens despite political partisanship and disputes. The threats are too great and important to be sidelined.