In February 2001, deep in the Negev near Israel's nuclear center at Dimona, two battalions of US Patriot missiles deployed with their IAF counterparts to face an imaginary Iraqi Scud attack. Both militaries insisted that the timing of Exercise Juniper Cobra was planned over a year ago. The exercise was unrelated to the recent tensions with Iraq. Juniper Cobra started 08 February 2001 and lasted 15 days. It included about 400 members of the US 69th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, based near Frankfurt, Germany, which joined other Patriot batteries already deployed there.
There is an agreement with the Israelis to provide Patriots in time of need, and this is an effort to practice that. One of the Army's top officers in Europe, V Corps deputy commanding general Maj. Gen. Robert F. Dees, led the maneuvers, slated to be held outside of the Beersheba in southern Israel.
The bulk of the soldiers deploying to Israel come from 6th Battalion, 52nd Air Defense Artillery. The Ansbach, Germany-based unit, commanded by Lt. Col. Kurt Lambert, is one of two Patriot battalions in Europe and part of the 69th Air Defense Artillery Brigade. The same brigade also was put on alert to go to Israel in 2000. The soldiers brought with them what's known as a "Minimum Engagement Package" of Patriots, less than an 8-launcher battery, used to defend single points on the ground. Also deploying wre civilian analysts and technicians with the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization.
The Patriots deployed by Israel and the US Army are designed primarily as anti-aircraft weapons, with the Arrow anti-ballistic rockets giving the first operational protection from incoming Scuds. The Israeli Air Force deployed its first Arrow battery in 2000.
The long-scheduled Israeli-US air defense drill in the Negev involved over 400 US servicemen and two US Patriot missile batteries brought over from Germany at the beginning of February 2001. After refusing to comment on the exercise for weeks, the IDF Spokesman released a statement on 18 February 2001 saying that the exercise would involve firing missiles. "The exercise has been planned for over a year and is part of routine US-Israel training designed to validate the interoperability of the air defense systems," the statement said. It involves linking with the Aegis cruiser USS Porter sailing off the coast, whose advance radar can pick up missile attacks. The first stage of the exercise involved communications and training, including the interoperability of Israel's Arrow-2 missile batteries and the Patriot. The live missiles were fired close to drones serving as artificial targets. The missiles were not aimed at the drones, but an area nearby. The teams then measured for accuracy.
The Juniper Cobra scenario visualized 10 Iraqi long-range ground-ground missiles launched against Israel s nuclear center at Dimona from southern Iraq - to cut the distance and enhance precision. In 1991, the 39 Scud missiles that struck Israel were fired from Northern Iraq. The Arrow s command and radar detects the approaching missiles and moves to intercept. It knocks out a number of the Iraqi projectiles, but not all. The rest continue to fly into target, at which point the Arrow signals the US Patriots to go into action to intercept them too at closer quarters.
The scenario also postulates a second missile strike -- this one fired from Central Iraq. Juniper Cobra will test the batteries reloading speed for a fresh round of anti-missile missiles to head off the second Iraqi launch. This is the first integrated US-Israel air defense missile test to be directed not on site but by from the US missile defense systems command in Colorado.
The deployment came as Israelis prepared to go the polls Feb. 6, amid almost daily violence that continues in the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank. Hardliner Ariel Sharon led by wide margins in most polls in his bid to take over the country's top post from Prime Minister Ehud Barak. On February 6th, Israeli voters put Ariel Sharon in power as prime minister. The Juniper Cobra exercise came only days after the the February 16 US and British air attacks against Iraqi air defense sites, which hit Baghdad for the first time in more than two years. This prompted renewed Iraqi threats against Israel, a US ally in the region.
Patriots have deployed to Israel in the past, but only in times of crisis. The last time was in December 1998 under Opeation Shining Presence, when Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein hampered United Nations weapons inspections.
Germany-based Patriot units also were on alert for deployment to Israel in September 2000. Iraq had been massing troops along its northern borders at the time, according to U.S. intelligence sources, and US elections also coincided with the alert, which ended in November. The Patriot unit that had been standing by on that alert - 6th Battalion, 52nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment - is the same unit in Israel for Juniper Cobra 2001. The Ansbach, Germany-based unit is one of two Patriot battalions in Europe and part of the 69th Air Defense Artillery Brigade.
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