Israel, U.S. test missile defense
By ARON HELLER, Associated Press Writer
JERUSALEM - Thousands of American and Israeli troops conducted an operation Sunday to test new ways of intercepting missiles able to carry nuclear, chemical and biological warheads, American and Israeli military officials said.
Israel and the U.S. are concerned that Iran could be developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles able to threaten Israel. But both sides said the timing of the operation in southern Israel's Negev Desert was routine and unrelated to those fears.
The officials gave details of the operation on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to do so.
This is the fourth time the two countries have conducted the joint exercise, code-named "Juniper Cobra," which is held every two years.
The United States is Israel's closest ally, providing about $2.2 billion a year in military assistance and coordinating many aspects of defense policy.
"It is a computer simulation exercise designed to test the interoperability of the air defense system," said Stewart Tuttle, the U.S. Embassy spokesman in Tel Aviv, who declined to provide details. "The air defense can protect you against whatever happens to be on the warhead."
Both Israel and the U.S. are wary of Iran's nuclear program, suspecting that the goal is to produce nuclear weapons, despite Iran's claims that it wants nuclear energy only for civilian use. Israel considers Iran its most serious strategic threat, since its president has often questioned the legitimacy of Israel's right to exist.
The current drill began last week and is set to end Tuesday.
During the last exercise, in 2005, the tests included integrating the Israeli-made Arrow anti-ballistic missiles with the U.S. Patriot system to create a multilayered air defense system.
The concept is for the Arrow, a joint U.S.-Israeli project, to intercept inbound missiles at high altitudes, while the Patriot provides cover at lower levels. The U.S. deployed Patriot batteries in Israel in 1991, when Iraq fired 39 Scud missiles at Israel during the first Gulf war.
The Arrow was jointly developed by Israel Aircraft Industries and Chicago-based Boeing Co. at a cost of more than $1 billion, in response to the Patriots' failure to intercept many of the incoming Scuds. Some reports say Patriots missed them all.
"From time to time, the United States and Israel conduct routine exercises in Israel," the Israeli military said in a statement. "This exercise has been planned for over a year and is part of a routine training cycle designed to validate interoperability of air defense systems."
Military officials said Israel's air defense artillery brigade and the U.S. Army Corps' 69th Air Defense Artillery Brigade were taking part in the drill.
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