U.S. Patriot missile crews stationed in Germany are once again headed to Israel to participate in a joint exercise with the Israeli military.
The exercise, called Juniper Cobra, is set to begin Thursday and continue until mid-April. Its purpose is to develop and improve air defense cooperation between the two nations, said Connie Summers, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Army’s V Corps in Heidelberg, Germany.
Roughly 1,000 U.S. troops will participate in the computer-assisted and limited live-fire exercise, with Army soldiers making up the majority of the group.
Of the total U.S. force, about 500 soldiers with the 69th Air Defense Artillery Brigade based at Giebelstadt Army Airfield in Germany and the brigade’s two Patriot battalions will take part in the exercise. The brigade’s Patriot battalions are the 5th Battalion, 7th ADA in Hanau, and the 6th Battalion, 52nd ADA headquartered in Ansbach.
The remaining U.S. force, both active-duty and reserve, is composed of Navy and various communications and logistics support elements from the States and Europe, Summers said.
While the timing of the exercise comes amid increasing tension in the Middle East, Army officials said Tuesday that the missile exercise had been planned for a year.
“There is absolutely no connection with this exercise and any event in the region,” Summers said. “As always, we are interested in implementing lessons learned from training exercises.”
The deployment of the crews and their missiles is partly a signal to others in the Middle East but largely a reassurance to the Israelis, said Michael Desch, a political science professor at The Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University.
“The symbolic thing is this signals the American commitment to Israeli security,” he said.
As recently as January 2003, Patriot missile crews were deployed to Israel for the Juniper Cobra exercise. At that point, troops and materials were being deployed steadily to the Middle East in preparation for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Also, Juniper Cobra took place in February 2001, which coincided with an Israeli prime minister election and continuing strife between Israelis and Palestinians.
In both instances, Army officials said the exercise had been planned a year in advance and was not prompted by the developing situations.
Patriot crews were sent to Israel in November 1998 for exercises. But shortly after arriving, the United States conducted Operation Desert Fox, which resulted in three days of strikes against Iraq sparked by tensions over U.N. weapons inspections.
The Patriot missile debuted in combat during the 1991 Persian Gulf War when Iraq fired Scud missiles toward Israel and Saudi Arabia. The high-speed missile was originally designed to strike down jets but was modified to intercept unfriendly missiles.
Its success in the Gulf War made the missile a household name in America.