By Fikret Akfırat
On January 23-27, the US and Israeli militaries conducted their largest ever joint military exercise in the Eastern Mediterranean. The exercise, named “Juniper Oak 23”, was announced to be the first in a series of exercises to be conducted in 2023.
US Department of Defense chief spokesperson Patrick Ryder said the exercise “enhances our ability to respond to contingencies and underscores the U.S. commitment to the Middle East region.” He explained its goals as follows: “To enhance US and Israeli command and control capabilities, a full target engagement cycle, including the suppression of enemy air defenses, strategic air interdiction and electronic attacks.”
Around 6,400 US troops and more than 1,500 Israeli troops took part in the exercise. Other components of the exercise include: US and Israeli 5th generation fighter jets, USS George H.W. Bush Aircraft Carrier Strike Group, command and control elements, rescue and refueling aircraft, B52, F35, F15, F16, FA-18, AC-130, AH64, 12 ships, High Mobility Rocket Artillery Systems (HIMARS), Multiple Barrel Rocket Launch Systems. More than 140 aircraft fired live during the exercise.
‘Curtain raiser on the future of combat in the Middle East’
Jonathan Lord from the Center for New American Security (CNAS) gives the following information about the exercise:
“The US and Israeli militaries will perform joint exercises in all domains: land, air, sea, space, and cyber. … a typical joint military exercise takes about one year to plan. The planning for Juniper Oak began in November 2022. … This exercise’s size, scope, and complexity set it apart from any that came before.” (CNAS, January 26, 2023).
Washington Post senior writer David Ignatius argued that the exercise was a show of force against Iran.
The Wall Street Journal reported it as “an ‘unprecedented exercise’ that shows the US is not turning its back on the Middle East even as it focuses on the war in Ukraine.” (WSJ, January 26, 2023)
Seth J. Frantzman from the Jerusalem Post believes that the exercise is not only about Iran. Frantzman wrote:
“CNN has reported that this is the largest joint military exercise ever between the two countries, which is interpreted as a “clear signal to Iran.” Tehran is clearly one of the issues involved, but the overall drill and context goes far beyond just the issue of the Iranian threat.
The message of these drills shows how far the Israel-US partnership has come in the last decades since the Gulf War and the Global War on Terror. Juniper Oak is a curtain raiser on the future of combat in the Middle East. (Jerusalem Post, January 24, 2023)
3+1 platform being revitalized
The exercise is a continuation of the Noble Dina and similar exercises organized by Greece-Israel-France under the leadership of the US in the past years. It coincided with the revitalization of the 3+1 platform, which is a typical sign of the encirclement of Türkiye in the Eastern Mediterranean. According to reports in the Greek media, the 3+1 platform formed by the US-Israel-Greece-Southern Cyprus will resume in February. In 2019, the US joined the trilateral cooperation platform that Greece established in 2016 with the Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus and Israel against Türkiye. The 3+1 platform is an institutionalized mechanism that directly aims to isolate Türkiye in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Israel. Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias was in Israel on the same days.
New phase in the ‘Second Israel’ project
What distinguishes this exercise from similar ones is the command of the troops that participated on behalf of the US. In 2021, Israel was transferred from the US European Forces Command to the Central Command (CENTCOM). CENTCOM’s commander, Michael Erik Kurilla, and many other commanders took part in this exercise. CENTCOM’s number one mission is to implement the Greater Middle East Project. The strategic goal of the Greater Middle East Project is the ‘Second Israel’. In other words, CENTCOM is the PKK’s commander-in-chief headquarters. Kurilla, the commander of the Central Forces, is regularly showing up at meetings with PKK in Syria.
Israel’s integration into CENTCOM and this exercise should be seen both as a show of force against Türkiye and its objective allies Russia, Iran and China, and a new move for the Second Israel project.