US and Israel start joint military exercise

The training, which includes midair refueling and ‘long range strategic striking’, comes amid tensions with Iran.

Four fighter jets in mid-air
Israeli F-16 fighter jets during a graduation ceremony for new pilots at Hatzerim base near the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, December 28, 2022 [File: Tsafrir Abayov/AP Photo]

Washington, DC – United States and Israeli forces have started joint military exercises in Israel as the two countries deepen security cooperation amid tensions with Iran.

The Israeli military said on Monday that the drills “will incorporate a number of scenarios, including long range strategic striking”.

For its part, the Central Command of the US military (CENTCOM), which oversees operations in the Middle East, said the joint training, part of an exercise series dubbed “Juniper Oak”, shows the US “commitment to Israel’s defense”.

The exercise comes less than a week after Israeli forces raided the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank with air attacks and hundreds of troops, killing at least 12 Palestinians.

But the Israeli and US statements suggested that the exercise – which includes midair refueling of fighter jets needed for hitting remote targets – was focused on Iran.

“This event also demonstrates our full commitment to the security of the Middle East and ability to deter hostile acts against regional partners,” CENTCOM said in a statement.

The Israeli military said in a series of tweets that the exercise is aimed at achieving “aerial superiority in the region and cyber defense in the face of a variety of threats and challenges”.

The administration of US President Joe Biden has criticised the far-right Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in recent weeks over expanding illegal settlements in the West Bank. Washington has also denounced the increasing settler violence against Palestinians.

Still, US officials regularly voice “ironclad” support for Israel.

Despite being accused of committing the crime of apartheid by leading human rights groups, including Amnesty International, Israel receives at least $3.8bn in US aid annually.

Biden and his top aides have also emphasised “regional integration” to advance partnerships between Israel and Arab states against perceived common threats – namely Iran.

Washington has said that it would never allow Tehran to acquire a nuclear weapon, which Iran denies seeking.

Efforts to restore a 2015 multilateral nuclear deal, which saw Iran scale back its nuclear programme in exchange for lifting sanctions on its economy, have failed so far.

Last month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken appeared to dismiss reports of an informal understanding between the two countries that would partly curb Iran’s nuclear programme.

Late in June, the State Department confirmed that its envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, who led previous rounds of indirect talks with the Iranians, is “on leave”.

Malley told US media outlets that his security clearance was under review. Details of the situation remain unclear.

Source: Al Jazeera