Seeks US Forward-Deployed THAAD for Upcoming Juniper Cobra

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TEL AVIV — Israeli military officers are negotiating with US counterparts to include forward-deployed Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) batteries in Juniper Cobra 2016, a biannual joint air and missile defense drill slated to play out here early next year.

“The Americans didn’t yet agree to our request,” an Israel Air Force commander told Defense News on Thursday. “We’re bringing our new David’s Sling and we’d like them to bring THAAD, in addition to their other capabilities.”

The officer insisted that despite Israeli press reports, the Israeli military wants to expand, rather than nix, the upcoming drill, known here as JC16.

In a story posted Aug. 6 by Israel Defense — and subsequently picked up by local and Jewish media — editor Amir Rappaport reported that due to sky-high tensions with Washington over the Iranian nuclear agreement, Israeli political leaders “declined far-reaching proposals for Israeli-American cooperation” in the context of JC16.

The veteran reporter and editor lamented “the absurd situation where the Americans are willing to offer us more than we want to receive.”

And while military planners here could not attest to what may or may not have been under consideration by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon as a means of manifesting displeasure with Washington, all here said they have not been directed to rebuff US offers to expand cooperation through Juniper Cobra or any other exercise.

“On the contrary, we’re the ones seeking to build upon previous successes," the Israel Air Force officer said. "Just last week, we had another bilateral coordinating meeting and as far as we’re concerned, it’s business as usual.”

Under current plans, JC16 is slated to be much larger than the last drill conducted in May 2014, but smaller than the largest ever joint drill — dubbed Austere Challenge — that was staged in October and November 2012.

Juniper Cobra 2014 was a five-day bilateral, computer-simulated defense exercise focused on interoperability between the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and US European Command (EUCOM). Some 700 US personnel were forward-deployed to Israel for that 2014 command post drill, with support from hundreds more US  troops participating at points throughout the US and Europe.

In contrast, Austere Challenge lasted nearly a month and involved some 3,500 US troops — about 1,000 of them forward-deployed in Israel. That event concluded with a two-day joint fire exercise, where US personnel operated Patriot batteries on Israeli soil while an Aegis ship monitored and tracked events offshore. According to an October 2012 Pentagon news release, the US contributed some $30 million to the Austere Challenge drill, while Israel contributed about $8 million.

Spokesmen for Netanyahu and Ya’alon were unavailable for comment on Israel’s reported refusal to expand cooperation in the upcoming JC16, while an MoD source characterized earlier reports as “rumors.”

But Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an IDF spokesman, was unequivocal in his Aug. 13 response to Defense News: “There is no change in plans to carry out JC16. Preparations are underway as they are with many other exercises that will take place between the two countries.”

Email: bopallrome@defensenews.com

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