JERUSALEM -- More than 1,000 U.S. soldiers have begun to arrive in Israel for the largest-ever joint military exercise between the two nations to test their cooperation in the event of a large-scale missile attack against Israel.
The three-week, $30-million war games are purely defensive in nature and unrelated to any specific regional threat, Air Force Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin said during a briefing with reporters Wednesday.
Israel is particularly worried about recent turmoil and new threats in the region. Syria’s unrest is raising fears about the fate of its chemical weapons. Israel has threatened to launch a military attack against Iran’s purported nuclear weapons program. An Iranian-built unmanned spy drone sent by Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group was shot down over Israel last week.
Militants in the Gaza Strip this week, for the first time, fired an antiaircraft missile against Israeli planes. Israeli officials believe that weapon and many more like it were smuggled into Gaza from Libya after the revolution in that country.
But Franklin stressed that the exercise, which will include tests of U.S.-made Patriot and Aegis missile defense systems, had been planned for two years and was not intended to send any signal about possible upcoming military operations.
The drill is “not there to send a message,” he said.
In the same telephone briefing, however, Israel Defense Forces Brig. Gen. Nitzan Nuriel said that “anyone who wants can get any kind of message he wants from this exercise.”
Israel relies heavily on its close cooperation with the U.S. military to serve as a deterrent against its enemies.
The exercise will simulate a multifront missile attack against Israel, Nuriel said.
-- Edmund Sanders
Photo: A U.S. soldier works on an anti-missile system in an earlier U.S.-Israeli military exercise. About 1,000 U.S. military personnel are arriving in Israel for joint military exercises to take place over the next three weeks. Credit: Ziv Koren / European Pressphoto Agency