Many of the 1,400 US troops and 17 US warship crews of US Missile Defense Agency and the US European Command who departed Israel Tuesday, Nov. 10 at the end of the Juniper Cobra 10 ballistic exercise, had the feeling they would be back soon. They left after two weeks of joint rehearsals with Israel's missile, naval and air forces, in the warding off of simulated missile attacks from Iran and Syria as well as Hizballah from Lebanon and Hamas from the Gaza Strip.
But not all their gear went with them. Left behind in Israeli bases were the PAC-3 (Patriot Advanced Capability) anti-missile batteries flown into Israel from September along with American tech support staff. They were told that their operational capability must be maintained at top notch so that in case an Israel-Iran war broke out, they would be ready for use the instant the missile crews were flown in from Europe.
It is possible that some of the US THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) missiles were also kept back from returning to their bases in Europe and the US, although this is not corroborated by Israeli or American sources.
The Aegis Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) intercept system was installed on the upgraded US guided missile cruisers and destroyers which took part in the drill. If a war erupts, they may be expected to switch to active interception should Iranian seaborne missiles start winging toward Israel along with its allies' ballistic projectiles.
A tally of all the advanced US hardware plus Israel's Arrow-2 anti-missile batteries made Juniper Cobra 10 the largest intercept exercise for short and medium range missiles the US has ever conducted. This missile shield was tested not only against ballistic attacks on Israel but also on all US bases in the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean, and the countries of southern and eastern Europe.
Military and strategic targets, at least, well defended
But at least one of its conclusions was negative and alarming.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly military sources report that, although a key section of the drill focused on defending Tel Aviv and the Gush Dan metropolitan district, where Israel's largest urban population (over 2 million residents) is concentrated, Juniper Cobra 10 demonstrated that even this massive array of American and Israeli intercept weaponry is not up to shielding Israel's largest populations centers from harm, but only to its military and strategic infrastructure.
To defend this number of civilians, which the US attempted unsuccessfully in the 1991war against Saddam Hussein's Scud missiles, US commander-in-chief Barack Obama would need to deploy at least 4,000 military personnel to man 2-3 times the number of missile batteries which participated in Juniper Cobra 10.
America cannot command those numbers without depleting the missile defense crews of its own Middle East bases.
Israel alone would be hard pressed to defend its population against ballistic attack if Iran, Syria, Hizballah and Hamas combined to share out the targeted areas between them; Iran focusing on the heavily-populated central Israel, Syria and Hizballah on the North and Hamas on the South. Each would then be able to maximize the intensity of its missile assaults.
In contrast, the US and Israeli military airfields, missile bases, the Dimona nuclear center and the nuclear industry – which the joint exercise reckoned would be preferred targets, judging from Israel's January 2009 Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip and the Israel-Hizballah Lebanon War of 2006 – would be adequately protected.
Israel-US inter-communications in sync
Some of our military sources fear that Iran may consequently switch its sights to Israel's most vulnerable underbelly, its urban centers. That was why IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi's forewarned the Knesset defense and foreign affairs committee Tuesday, Nov. 10, that Hizballah had acquired missiles with a range of 300-350 km. Hizballah can thus match Iran and Syria missile for missile against the Tel Aviv conurbation and strike as far south as the Negev center of Dimona.
Juniper Cobra also held joint drills in the defense of the Suez Canal and Red Sea region against Iranian missiles. With Cairo parading its lack of involvement in the war game, US AEGIS-armed warships crossed the Suez Canal from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea and back. They were escorted by Israeli missile ships and directed by the AN/TPY-2/TPSX forward-based X-band transportable radar, deployed by the U.S. and manned by American personnel at Israel's Nevatim air base in the Negev.
A second important exercise tested the IDF's Tzayad (Hunter) digital communication network's ability to enhance communication and data transmission between Israeli and U.S. systems. Communications between the networks were smooth and untroubled. “Hunter” proved its critical value in keeping Israel-US intercommunication on track of an Iranian attack in conditions of war.
American officers who took active part in the rehearsals said they were taken aback by the rapidity with which military change developed in the Middle East, even in the short two-week span of the exercise. In that sense, they said, the drill took on a real-life quality.
The lightening changes they referred to were the sudden rocket assault on northern Israel from Lebanon on October 27, the capture by Israeli naval commandoes of an Iranian arms ship on November 4, and the massive Saudi bombardments inside Yemen starting the next day. These events following in quick succession in the course of Juniper Cobra registered loud and clear on its electronic tracking screens.