U.S.-Israel Drill to Practice Defense on Multiple Fronts

The three-week, $30 million U.S.- Israeli air and missile defense exercise later this month will simulate attacks and defensive intercepts on multiple fronts including fending off drone attacks, according to U.S. and Israeli military officials.

About 1,000 U.S. personnel of the 3,500 participating in the exercise -- the largest ever between the two allies -- are starting to arrive in Israel, officials said yesterday on a conference call with reporters. It will begin by month’s end, they said yesterday without giving the exact start date.

The exercise follows a U.S.-led operation completed last month that involved more than 30 nations in the largest mine-clearing demonstration held in the Persian Gulf region.

The U.S.-Israeli “Austere Challenge 2012” comes amid threats from Israel to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities and Iranian vows to retaliate, and just days after Israel shot down an unarmed reconnaissance drone controlled by Lebanon’s Hezbollah group.

The exercise, postponed from earlier this year, is also taking place weeks before the U.S. presidential election, as Republican challenger Mitt Romney has attacked President Barack Obama for throwing Israel “under the bus.”

Obama has assured Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that that the U.S. is committed to Israel’s security and the two leaders are in “full agreement” on the goal of preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, the White House said in a Sept. 28 statement.

The exercise, two years in the planning, isn’t in response to any current Middle East events, such as rising tensions with Iran, officials said.

“You are looking at all the threats to Israel,” U.S. Third Air Force Commander Lieutenant General Craig Franklin said on the call with reporters yesterday from Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany. “Those could be rockets, they can be mortars, they can be short-range ballistic missiles, long-range ballistic missiles -- so you look at the entire spectrum.”

‘Possible Salvos’

“You try to coordinate against possible salvos of those threats,” he said.

The U.S. is deploying a Navy Aegis-class vessel and the latest version of the Patriot missile to work in tandem with Israel’s Arrow-2 and Iron Dome systems, said Franklin.

The exercise will also simulate drone flights over Israel and defenses, said Israel Defense Forces Brigadier General Nitzan Nuriel, the IDF’s lead planner for the exercise, without providing details.

Lebanon’s Hezbollah launched a drone that was shot down over Israeli territory this month, said Hassan Nasrallah, the chief of the militant Shiite Muslim movement regarded as a terrorist group by Israel and the U.S.

Nasrallah, speaking Oct. 11 on the party’s Manar television station said the drone was Iranian-made and assembled by Hezbollah. He said it passed over “sensitive and important” locations, describing it as an “achievement” for the aircraft to fly for so long before it was downed.

Multiple Fronts

“We are trying” to defend against “more than one front, let them deal with more than one salvo a day,” Nuriel said. “We need them to work in high tempo in order for them to be prepared for real scenarios,” Nuriel said.

Nuriel and Franklin said there would be no live firings of weapons in intercept drills.

“You put the hardware there and simulate its use,” Franklin said. “You can simulate incoming salvos through computer modeling,” Franklin said. “You stress the system, you network it all together using the simulation and then you run through what your responses would be. You can run pretty stressful scenarios just by doing that,” he said.

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