As part of an ongoing exercise between the Israel Air Force and the United States Central Command, American B-52 strategic bombers will drop live ammunition on targets in southern Israel on Wednesday.
Channel 12 news Tuesday night, without citing a source, said the targets in the Negev desert were simulating Iranian nuclear facilities. The network said the bombers would drop 100 tons of bunker-busting explosives, also without citing a source.
However, a US official told American media that there would be no replicas of Iranian targets during the exercises and that the exercises were not aimed at any specific adversary, but rather were intended to send a message to Iran and China.
The Israel Defense Forces did not brief reporters at all on the exercise, save for a brief statement announcing the start of the war games with some additional details shortly after CENTCOM.
The IDF does not plan to issue any statements or media about the exercise until it is complete and only after CENTCOM has officially completed it.
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A hyped video released by CENTCOM on Tuesday showed a wide range of military activity as part of the exercise dubbed Juniper Oak 2023.
Juniper Oak 23.2 has just started… pic.twitter.com/DN8tVsGT3D
— US Central Command (@CENTCOM) January 24, 2023
The US-led drills, involving over 140 aircraft, 12 naval vessels and artillery systems from both nations, will end later this week, both the IDF and CENTCOM said.
The senior US defense official said the exercise aims to show adversaries like Iran that Washington is not too distracted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s threats to mobilize a major military power.
Juniper Oak 2023 logo. (CENTCOM)
CENTCOM said in its statement the armed forces would practice joint command and control, air operations in maritime surface warfare, combat search and rescue, electronic strikes, suppression of enemy air defenses, strike coordination and reconnaissance, and air interdictions.
Of the 142 aircraft involved in the exercise, 100 are Americans, US media reported, including four B-52 strategic bombers, four F-35 fighter jets, 45 F/A-18 fighters and two MQ-9 Reaper drones.
CENTCOM said F-15 and F-16 fighters, AC-130 attack helicopters, Apache helicopters and other rescue and refueling aircraft — including the Boeing KC-46, which Israel is expected to receive in 2025 — would also take part.
The IDF said the plane would practice “various scenarios,” including hitting targets simulating sea threats and the US bombers dropping live ammunition into southern Israel.
The 12 naval vessels involved in the exercise include six Israeli Navy ships and six US ships, the latter of which comprise an aircraft carrier strike group.
Israeli and American naval vessels are seen during the Juniper Oak 2023 exercise January 24, 2023 in the eastern Mediterranean. (CENTCOM)
The IDF said the Israeli Navy’s Sa’ar 5-class corvettes and a submarine would take part in the exercise. The corvettes are to be refueled by an American supply tanker during the exercise “to expand the IDF’s range and operational areas in routine and emergency situations,” it said.
CENTCOM and the IDF said the exercise would also include high mobility artillery missile systems and multi-launch missile systems, as well as infantry and special forces.
About 6,400 US personnel join 1,100 Israeli personnel for the exercise. Senior CENTCOM commanders, including their chief, Michael Kurilla, will be observing the exercise.
A CENTCOM HC-130J refuels an IAF Sikorsky CH-53 ‘Yasur’ helicopter over northern Israel during the Juniper Oak 2023 exercise January 24, 2023. (CENTCOM)
The official, who spoke to US outlets, said it was “the most significant exercise to date between the United States and Israel,” citing the massive amount of aircraft and personnel involved.
He said the exercise was not aimed at any specific nation, but regional adversaries such as Iran would take notice. “The scale of the exercise is relevant to a whole range of scenarios, and Iran can draw certain conclusions from this,” the official was quoted as saying by NBC News.
“It’s really mostly meant to challenge our ability to do things on this scale with the Israelis against a whole range of different threats. But you know, I wouldn’t be surprised if Iran sees the scale and nature of these activities and understands what we’re both capable of,” the source added.
CENTCOM artillery systems fire missiles during the Juniper Oak 2023 exercise on January 24, 2023. (CENTCOM)
Israel regularly conducts various training exercises with the US military in the country, including air force exercises and anti-missile defense exercises.
In November, the IDF and the US military conducted a series of joint air exercises simulating attacks against Iran and its regional terror proxies.
The then IDF chief Aviv Kohavi said at the time that joint activities with the US military in the Middle East would be “significantly expanded”.
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