The biggest-ever U.S.-Israeli military exercise, bringing 3,500 American troops to test air-defense systems with 1,000 Israeli solders, should worry Iran and Hamas, an Israeli commander said.
“When you see two professional armed forces such as the U.S. and Israeli air-defense forces working together and practicing together, of course, it’s a message of deterrence,” Brigadier-General Shachar Shohat said yesterday after surveying anti-missile systems brought to Tel Aviv for the wargames. “I hope the other side also understands it like that.”
Shohat and U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General Craig Franklin are running the month-long exercise dubbed “Austere Challenge 12” designed to create “stress situations” in Israel’s airspace and off its Mediterranean coast that test the ability of both countries to act against attacks.
The mock military maneuvers and computer war simulations taking place on a Tel Aviv beach coincided with actual Israeli air raids 70 kilometers (44 miles) to the south on the Gaza Strip in response to Palestinian rocket attacks. Four Gaza residents were killed by the Israeli strikes as Palestinian militia groups launched at least 75 missiles into Israel, wounding three foreign workers, two seriously, and damaging property, according to police.
“The dozens of rockets fired from Gaza into the southern part of our country demonstrate the threat to our citizens,” Shohat said at a press conference with Franklin on the beach with American and Israeli flags fluttering behind them.
Sudan yesterday accused Israel of attacking its Yarmouk military factory, according to Cairo-based Middle East News Agency, without presenting evidence to support the assertion. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak declined to comment on the pre-dawn explosion that killed two people.
The fact that Israel is fighting Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls Gaza, and preparing for a counterstrike against Iran if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decides to attack its nuclear facilities is just coincidence, Franklin said.
“This is not related to any real world scenario,” he said. “This is an exercise with a notional scenario.”
Iranian officials say their nuclear program is intended only for civilian purposes and that they will retaliate against any Israeli military action. Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and the European Union.
While Iran staged its own wargames last week, General Hossein Salami said an Israeli attack “would be an opportunity to destroy that regime,” according to the Iranian Students News Agency. Hossein said Israel couldn’t sustain a long war and its “threats are only psychological,” ISNA reported Oct. 18.
President Barack Obama’s administration has openly disagreed with Netanyahu over how to halt Iran’s progress toward the capability to produce an atomic weapon and the timing of any military strikes to stop its work.
Austere Challenge 12 follows a U.S.-led exercise last month that involved more than 30 nations in the largest mine-clearing demonstration in the Persian Gulf region. Iranian officials have periodically threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which about 20 percent of the world’s oil is shipped daily.
Iran’s forces conducted three war exercises earlier this year “meant to show offensive and defensive” missile capabilities, the Pentagon said in a June 29 report to Congress. The Islamic Republic’s military continues to improve the accuracy and killing power of its long- and short-range ballistic missiles, including designing a weapon to target vessels, the Pentagon said.
Iran continues to develop ballistic missiles with the range to reach regional adversaries, Israel and Eastern Europe, including an extended-range Shahab-3 and a 2,000-kilometer medium-range ballistic missile, according to the report.
The exercise in Israel includes personnel and a mobile tactical-operations center from the year-old 10th Army Air & Missile Defense Command in Kaiserslautern, Germany, whose members showed off missile launchers and associated trucks and heavy equipment before the generals spoke.
“This is what we use to sort out the threats and friendlies,” Army Captain Mary Thurmond, 29, of Savannah, Georgia, said, standing next to a massive radar truck. “The cooperation between our two forces has been just amazing.”