The United States Army, interested in increasing cooperation with the IDF, is planning one of the largest joint American-Israeli military exercises for May 2012, according to Lt.-Gen. Mark Hertling, commander of the U.S. Army in Europe. The exercise, called “Austere Challenge,” will include establishing U.S. command posts in Israel and IDF command posts at EUCOM (the U.S. European Command), headquartered in Germany.
Austere Challenge is part of an intensified military partnership between Israel and the U.S. under President Obama. And while some analysts suspect ulterior motives – such as the president’s desire to keep an eye on Israel or gain leverage in negotiating with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu on the Palestinian issue – there’s no doubting the expansion in ties. Over the past year, record numbers of Israeli and American soldiers have participated in joint drills, sometimes even working as a coalition force for the first time, and visits by Israeli and American military officials have increased.
U.S. Marines training at the IDF Urban Warfare Training Center.
During July and August, for example, about 200 U.S. Marines joined the IDF in a month-long training session that ended with the Marines “conquering” a module city “in a methodically selective and surgical manner while minimizing harm to uninvolved civilians” inside the IDF Urban Warfare Training Center in the Negev desert. The module city features a city center, hospital, mosque, local shops, paved roads, and more, allowing soldiers to train and prepare for combat in urban environments. Other joint exercises and ideas are in the works.
While the U.S. and Israel have experienced severe diplomatic strains under President Obama, reports on an intensification of U.S.-Israeli military ties is comforting. Nevertheless, joint military exercises will not be enough to secure Israel’s safety from physical and image damage within the international community, and it is important for the White House to stand for Israel publicly as well as privately, as it apparently does in the backrooms of military training bases.