US and Israel conclude largest-ever joint military exercise

Central Command says relationship with Israel Defence Forces 'stronger' after historic exercise

American and Israeli aircraft take part in the joint exercise Juniper Oak. AP
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US Central Command and the Israel Defence Forces on Thursday wrapped up their largest partnered exercise in the military allies' history.

The bilateral, live-fire exercise took place in both Israel and the Mediterranean Sea.

Officials at the Pentagon said the operation, called Juniper Oak 23.2, enhanced Washington's ability to respond to contingencies and “underscores the US commitment to the Middle East region”.

Centcom said the exercise enhanced interoperability and the ability of its forces “to rapidly move combat power into the region” through more integrated fighter assets and command and control elements.

“Today the partnership between Centcom and the IDF is stronger and continues to grow,” Centcom's commander Gen Michael Kurilla said.

“Our partnership is a key pillar of our commitment to expanding regional security co-operation.”

About 6,400 US troops and more than 1,500 Israeli troops participated in the exercise, using more than 140 aircraft, 12 naval vessels, High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems and multiple-launch rocket systems, according to the Pentagon.

Jonathan Lord, director of the Middle East Security programme at Washington's Centre for a New American Security, argues that the operation could work in tandem with US goals of expanding regional relationships with Israel through the Abraham Accords.

“For Israel’s emerging partners in the Gulf who have sought to normalise and build greater relations following the signing of the Abraham Accords, seeing this awesome display of military capability is a showcase for what they stand to gain,” Mr Lord wrote in an analysis.

Mr Lord expects that the Pentagon will take a “crawl, walk, run approach to building up the military capabilities of the Gulf partners”, he told The National.

“I’d expect to see more bilateral exercises that focus on specific domains like air or sea. As both trust and proficiency build, Centcom will look to convene its partners in planning conferences, and eventually, we will see those culminate in multilateral exercises, but there’s a lot of work to get done between here and there,” he said.

A week before the massive military exercise, national security advisers from the UAE, Bahrain, the US and Israel promised enhanced regional integration and co-operation after multilateral talks.

Washington's military partnership with Israel is a deep-rooted one.

More than half of all foreign military aid that US President Joe Biden requested for fiscal year 2022 was earmarked for Israel, Washington think tank the Council on Foreign Relations said.

Under a 2016 agreement, Washington committed to providing about $4 billion to Israel each year, including $500 million for missile defence.

Updated: January 26, 2023, 8:13 PM