The United States and Israel began a massive joint military exercise in Israel on Monday to show adversaries such as Iran that Washington is not too distracted by the war in Ukraine and China’s threat to mobilize a large military force, a senior defense official said.

Juniper Oak 23 is “the most significant exercise between the United States and Israel to date,” the official said, citing the sheer number of aircraft, extensive coordination with the Israel Defense Forces, and the complicated live-fire component.

Approximately 6,400 US troops have joined 1,100 Israeli troops for the exercise, which will use 142 aircraft in all. Of those, 100 aircraft are from the US military, including four B-52 bombers, four F-35 fighter jets, 45 F/A-18 Hornet fighters and two MQ-9 Reaper drones. Six US ships, including an aircraft carrier strike group, and six Israeli ships will also take part.

General Michael «Erik» Kurilla, commander of US Central Command, said, «Juniper Oak is a combined joint, all-domains exercise that enhances our interoperability on land, air, sea, space and cyberspace with our partners.» . , enhances our ability to respond to contingencies and underscores our commitment to the Middle East.»

“What we think this exercise shows is that we can walk and chew gum at the same time,” said the senior defense official speaking to NBC News, citing the focus on China and the roughly 100,000 forces in Europe to support NATO and Ukraine.

“We still have excess capacity to be able to move to another high-priority area of ​​responsibility and conduct an exercise on this scale.”

The official said the exercise is not geared around a particular nation, but that regional adversaries like Iran will take notice.

«The scale of the exercise is relevant to a wide range of scenarios, and Iran can draw certain inferences from that,» the official said. “It really is primarily meant to kick the tires of our ability to do things on this scale with the Israelis against a wide range of different threats. But, you know, I wouldn’t be surprised if Iran sees the scale and nature of these activities and understands what the two of us are capable of.»

Unlike many military exercises, this one is full domain, meaning it includes naval, ground, air, space, and electronic warfare exercises. It culminates in a live-fire exercise that will expend 180,000 pounds of live munitions while simulating suppression of enemy air defenses, strategic air interdiction, and electronic attack. The US will use four US Army HIMAR rocket launchers, laser-guided bombs and stealthy «low-observable» cruise missiles without payloads.

An exercise of this size would normally take a year or more to plan, but this came to fruition in a matter of months, the official said, not because of an imminent threat but because of a window of availability.

“This is a sign that we continue to support Israel at a time when there is a lot of turmoil and instability in the region,” the official said, and this is an opportunity to show that the US and Israel can work together in a large scalar in a short period of time.

The exercise will take place from Monday to Friday. The official could not say how Iran will react to the exercises.

“I guess the next time they do a military exercise, they’ll say, even if it was planned for months, they’ll say it was a reaction to this. I mean, they’ll probably do something in the information space.»

The exercise comes as the US military footprint in the Central Command region is smaller than it has been in decades, partly after the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan in 2021 and fewer members of the military remaining. American service in Iraq. While the Pentagon and Central Command downplay the decline, allies in the region fear the United States is less committed to the area.

The senior defense official said this drill is a signal to other nations that the argument is not true.

“If there is a sense that the Americans are distracted, or that the Americans are moving away from the Middle East and therefore have free rein for their malign activities. I think this will undeceive them,» the official said.

«I suspect Iran will take note of that, but not just Iran, China will take note of that, Russia will take note of that, other people will take note of that.»