The US and Israel have begun “Exercise Juniper Oak 23.2” in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea amid increased tension with Iran, featuring more than 140 aircraft including strategic bombers, fighter jets, and refueling aircraft.
The major live-fire drill, running from January 23-27, also includes Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, and 12 naval vessels, the US Central Command said.
Six vessels from each country will be involved, with around 6,400 US personnel and 1,100 Israelis taking part, according to a report by NBC News.
The first-time exercise will also involve combined command and control, infantry, Space Force assets, and special operations forces.
“Juniper Oak is a Combined Joint All-Domain exercise which improves our interoperability on land, in the air, at sea, in space, and in cyberspace with our partners, enhances our ability to respond to contingencies, and underscores our commitment to the Middle East,” commander of US Central Command Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla said.
Juniper Oak 23.2 has just begun… pic.twitter.com/DN8tVsGT3D
— U.S. Central Command (@CENTCOM) January 24, 2023
Thinly-Veiled Message to Iran
A senior US official said that the drill aims to show that the US is still committed to protecting partners and interests beyond the war in Ukraine and Chinese expansionism as a thinly-veiled message to Iran, NBC News reported.
“Consistent with CENTCOM’s strategic approach of people, partners, and innovation, we are committed to strengthening military-to-military relations throughout the region,” Kurilla stated.
“These kinds of exercises – which CENTCOM routinely conducts with our partners – develop interoperability between military forces, increase military capabilities, and are important to the security and stability of the region. The lessons learned during these exercises are exportable to our partners across the region,” he concluded.