The U.S. and Israel launched their largest joint military exercise ever on January 23, 2023. Juniper Oak included nearly 6,500 American personnel and more than 1,100 Israeli personnel, 100 U.S. aircraft with fighters, bombers, and refueling aircraft flying alongside 42 Israeli aircraft. The USS George H. W. Bush carrier strike group will also participate in the all-domain exercise, which includes naval, land, air, space, and electronic warfare exercises.
The six-day event, organized in just two months, concluded with a live-fire exercise simulating suppression of enemy air defenses, strategic air interdiction, and electronic attack. Over four days, U.S. and Israeli forces dropped more than 180,000 pounds of live munitions.
“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,” said Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla, the commander of U.S. Central Command.
The exercise was not specifically related to Iran, but it involved all the weapons systems that would be needed to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities and did not go unnoticed in Tehran.
“I do think that this scale of the exercise is relevant to a whole range of scenarios, and Iran may draw certain inferences from that,” an American official said. “It would not surprise me if Iran, you know, sees the scale and the nature of these activities and understands what the two of us are capable of doing.”
Not only Iran but the Gulf states may be influenced by what they see. Center for a New American Security Senior Fellow Jonathan Lord observed: “Israel’s new and emerging military partners in the Gulf can look at the high-level of interoperability and raw capability of the U.S. and Israeli militaries and see that as a future goal for their own militaries – to be able to execute at that level and with seamless integration. For Iran, the message is clear: the United States and Israel have the capability to existentially threaten this regime if it crosses the Rubicon on nuclear development.”
Taking place in the shadow of administration concerns about the new government in Israel, the exercise reinforced the strength of the military-to-military relationship.
“It’s remarkable that Israel’s transition to and partnership with U.S. Central Command is less than 18 months old. Our shared achievement is a testament to the leadership of the Israel Defense Forces and the enduring commitment of the Department of Defense’s most senior leaders to increase military cooperation. Only through a firm commitment to this partnership are we able to plan and organize such an incredibly complex high-end operation across such a large geographic area integrating all aspects of warfighting, some of which are seen and some of which are not,” Kurilla said.
In July 2023, a second Juniper Oak exercise was held, simulating aerial combat scenarios, achieving air superiority in space, cyber defense, and aerial refueling.
“The exercise continues and strengthens the operational cooperation between the armies and takes place as part of the series of exercises of the IDF with the Central Command of the U.S. Army,” the IDF said.
“Events like the Juniper Oak series demonstrate our commitment to strengthen military-to-military relations throughout the region,” said Gen. Kurilla. “These exercises test our forces interoperability in multiple domains to bolster the kinds of firm partnerships we will lean on in times of crisis.”
“The U.S. Air Force and Israel share an ironclad partnership built on mutual trust and cooperation,” said Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, Ninth Air Force (Air Forces Central) commander and Combined Forces Air Component Commander (CFACC) for U.S. Central Command. “Juniper Oak is a testament to the enduring commitment between our nations and reinforces our shared dedication to safeguarding mutual interests and promoting peace and stability in the region.”
Sources: Oren Liebermann, “US and Israel launch largest military exercise ever despite concerns over Netanyahu’s government,” CNN, (January 23, 2023).
Ben Samuels, “U.S., Israel Launch ’Most Significant Joint Military Exercise’ Amid Iran Tensions,” Haaretz, (January 23, 2023).
David Ignatius, “The U.S.-Israel military simulation is a show of force to Iran,” Washington Post, (January 26, 2023).
David Vergun, “Largest U.S.-Israeli Exercise in History Concludes,” U.S. Department of Defense, (January 26, 2023).
“USAF, IAF launch joint ‘Juniper Oak’ training exercise,” JNS, (July 10, 2023).
“U.S. Central Command and the Israel Defense Forces Begin Military Exercise,” Press Release, U.S. Central Command, (July 10, 2023).
“U.S. Air Force and Israel partner to enhance operational capabilities,” U.S. Air Forces Central, (July 10, 2023).