As U.S. diplomats urged their Iranian counterparts to accept an initial bargain on the Iran’s nuclear program last week in Vienna, the U.S. and Israeli military forces were starting a three-week joint air-defense exercise that will test their coordinated responses to potential missile attacks on Israel. The tests, known as Juniper Cobra, are part of a running series of biannual war games within Israel that began in 2001, but despite U.S. and Israeli assurances that the exercises bear no relation to current events, the political implications of Juniper Cobra seem inescapable. The presence of more than 1,000 US troops across Israel, backed by at least 15 U.S. warships in Israeli waters, would seem to signal American willingness to assist Israel in the event of a conflict with Iran. (Also, the 2005 and 2007 exercises took place in March, not October.)
But the new exercise also fits with President Barack Obama’s overhaul of the U.S. missile-defense strategy, which included last months’ scrapping President George W. Bush’s plan for a missile-defense shield based in Eastern Europe, and which the Defense Department says is designed to better meet the Iranian threat. According to Wired magazine’s Danger Room blog, U.S. forces during this exercise will test an array of new missile technologies, a step toward seeing how well Obama’s new missile-defense strategy will work. Meanwhile, Danger Room also reports that Israel will attempt its first demonstration of Iron Dome, a system meant to defend against short-range rocket attacks from Hamas or Hezbollah. If true, the test of Iron Dome represents a significant step toward Israel’s stated goal of constructing a near-comprehensive missile defense shield, capable of repelling everything from short-range Hamas Qassams to long-range Iranian Shahabs.
U.S., Israel Start Defense Drill [WSJ]
In Israel, a Key Test of Obama’s Retooled Missile Shield [Wired/Danger Room]
Jordan Chandler Hirsch is staff editor at Foreign Affairs.