US and Israel launch largest-ever military exercise despite concerns over Netanyahu’s government | CNN Politics



The US and Israel on Monday launched their largest-ever joint military exercise, sending a clear signal to Iran and underlining the strength of their alliance, despite concerns about the composition of Israel’s new government, which includes ultra-nationalist and ultra-religious parties.

The live-fire exercise, dubbed Juniper Oak, involves 100 American fighter, bomber and tanker jets flying alongside 42 Israeli aircraft. The strike group from the USS George HW Bush will also participate in the exercise, which will cover all areas of warfare, including aerospace and electronic warfare.

“We can’t really find another[exercise]that even comes close,” said a senior US defense official. Nearly 6,500 US personnel will participate in the exercise, as will more than 1,100 Israeli personnel, the official said.

The exercise comes despite concerns over the composition of the new Israeli government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which has appointed ministers once considered to be on the far-nationalist margins of Israeli politics, including the far-right Otzma Yehudit party and the Noam party, which is against LGBTQ rights.

The US official acknowledged the possibility of disagreements with the emerging government, but emphasized the non-negotiable bipartisan commitment to Israel.

“The security commitment we have to Israel is regardless of the specific personalities and the specific government,” the US official said.

In December, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Israeli government will be judged by its “policies and procedures, rather than individual personalities.”

The exercise comes as tensions between the US and Iran remain high. The Biden administration has introduced sanctions against Tehran after a brutal crackdown on protests in the country that saw protesters executed. Negotiations on a new nuclear deal have also stalled.

Netanyahu has consistently taken a tough stance on Iran, vowing at his new administration’s swearing-in to “thwart Iran’s efforts to obtain nuclear weapons.” As recently as Sunday, Netanyahu said the US and Israel will hold meetings on Iran in the coming weeks, following a visit from US national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

“I was impressed that there is a sincere and mutual desire to reach an agreement on this issue,” Netanyahu said at the meeting.

The exercise, which marks a major increase in cooperation between the US and Israeli armies, came about quickly, the official said, especially for something of this magnitude. Normally, such a large exercise involving so many different forces would take a year or more to plan, but his exercise was completed in two months, the official said. Planning started under the previous Israeli government of Yair Lapid and ended under the current one.

US Central Command will conduct the exercise. Israel was transferred to the Central Command area of ​​responsibility in September 2021 following the announcement of the change near the end of the Trump administration. Despite the shift and the burgeoning ties between Israel and the Gulf Arab countries, none of those countries will participate in the exercise. Instead, the US official said they will be informed of its conclusion later in the week.

“These types of exercises – which CENTCOM routinely conducts with our partners – develop interoperability between military forces, enhance military capabilities and are important to the security and stability of the region,” said General Michael Erik Kurilla, the commander of the US Central Command. in a statement. “Lessons learned during these exercises can be exported to our partners across the region.”

An earlier US-Israel military exercise held in late November was described by the Israeli military, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), as simulating a “long-range and long-range flight operational scenario”, including a “campaign against distant lands”, a thinly veiled reference to Iran.

The US official stressed that this exercise was not intended to simulate an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, but the official acknowledged that Iran would be watching and taking note.

“I think this scale of the exercise is relevant to a whole range of scenarios, and Iran can draw certain conclusions from that,” the official said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Iran, you know, sees the magnitude and nature of this activity and understands what the two of us are capable of.”

While the Biden administration favored a diplomatic solution to Iran’s advancing nuclear program, negotiations to revive the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), stalled. Iran’s violent crackdown on domestic protests and the supply of suicide drones to the Russian military have pushed prospects of rekindling the deal even further.

Israel, which strongly opposed a return to the JCPOA, pushed for a more aggressive US stance on Iran and has pledged to act against Iranian forces in the region. The US has repeatedly promised under Democratic and Republican administrations that Iran will not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons.

“We prefer a diplomatic outcome,” the US official said, “but we have other capabilities if necessary.”

The exercise also comes as the Pentagon shifts its focus from the Middle East and Central Asia. The National Defense Strategy identifies China as the challenge of the future as it addresses threats from Russia. The result is a dramatic reduction in the US military footprint in the central command. The US now has about 35,000 troops in the region, a far cry from a decade and a half ago, when the US had nearly 200,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan alone.

But this exercise is intended to demonstrate the US’s ability to move large troops into the region in a short period of time.

“We still have the overcapacity to be able to bend to another high-priority area of ​​responsibility and conduct an exercise on this scale,” the senior US defense official said.

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