JERUSALEM – The Israeli and U.S. militaries were set to begin a major joint air defense exercise Wednesday, highlighting military ties between the two allies at a time of heightened tensions over Iran's nuclear program.
The drill could have political implications for Israel's regional foes, with the exercise testing technology that could be used to defend Israel against an Iranian attack.
The maneuver underlines the strong alliance between the U.S. and Israel, despite recent spats over Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. The exercise, codenamed Juniper Cobra 10, will test the two countries' missile defense systems and will include roughly 1,000 U.S. military personnel and a similar number of Israeli troops, the Israeli military said.
The U.S. has deployed 17 warships equipped with radar systems to detect surface-to-surface missiles for the exercise. The countries plan to set up radar sites along the Israeli coast and launch dummy missiles from the sea to test the system's performance.
The exercise will include the use of X-band radar technology, used to detect incoming missiles from hundreds of miles away, a senior Israeli defense official said, speaking on condition of anonymity under security regulations.
"The radar is now part of Israel's active defense lineup, on the understanding that the missile threat on Israel is growing," the official said.
Israel and the U.S. say that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. Tehran denies the allegation and says it is only seeking nuclear power. Israel considers a nuclear Iran an existential threat and has signaled readiness to attack if international diplomatic efforts fail to curb the nuclear program.
The exercise goes beyond defense drills, said Eytan Gilboa, a political scientist at Israel's Bar-Ilan University. "This sends a message to Iran, to Hezbollah and to Hamas that the strategic relationship between the United States and Israel remains solid," he said.
Hezbollah and Hamas are Iranian proxies in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip that have warred with Israel in recent years.
The U.S. could also use the maneuvers to make Israel feel more secure in order to encourage Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, Gilboa said.