In the Levant

Last week, I had a chance to spend three days in Israel, observing our largest-ever defense exercise with our close allies and friends in their country.

The exercise is called Austere Challenge, and it has been planned for over a year, with several thousand men and women from both the U.S. and Israel involved. It centered on missile defense, linking together our command and control systems to prevent ballistic missiles from striking Israeli population centers -- an ever-present threat from a variety of sources in the region.

During my time in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and various exercise sites around Israel, I found our forces to be well prepared and capable of undertaking the assigned missions.  We had both sea-based AEGIS ship missile systems as well as land-based variants from both Israel and the U.S. -- including Patriot, Iron Dome, Arrow, and others.

Admrial Stavridis, in Israel, recieving a brief during Austere Challenge 2012 We worked hard to create realistic intelligence fusion throughout the exercise to give the best sense of the very short timelines we would face in real missile defense operations. Clearly we'll need to continue to invest resources in ensuring the maximum amount of warning time, and in hardware given the size of the threat.

The exercise also included portions that dealt with casualty response, non-combatant evacuations, and other civil-military interactions. This "comprehensive approach," so much a part of 21st century security, was well exercised.

As always, the Israeli Defense Forces were excellent hosts. Together, we learned a great deal from each other, and came away with more work to do but also with a sense of strong accomplishment and preparation. There will be some further events this month, but I am confident Exercise Austere Challenge will be considered a strong success.

In my conversations with the US Ambassador, Daniel Shapiro, and the Counsel-General, Lawrence Mire, in Jerusalem, I came away with a sense that US-Israeli relations in the security sector were in good shape.  Our diplomats are very engaged in the security sector across all the issues.

At several meetings and interactions with both the Chief of Defense, Lieutenant General Benny Gantz, and his Deputy, Major General Yair Naveh, they echoed this positive view, which I certainly share. We also discussed events in the region, notably the instability to the north in Syria, which is of course of deep concern to Israel.

Admiral Stavridis, in Israel, lays a wreath during Austere Challenge 2012. Finally, there was also time for a visit to lay a wreath at Yad Vashem, the profoundly moving Museum of the Holocaust. I spent a couple of hours there seeing once again -- through the deeply tragic exhibits -- the story of the holocaust.

Israel's strong relationship with the U.S. is important to them and important to us as well. In the military-to-military sector, we had a good opportunity to reinforce that relationship in this exercise -- and we'll build on it going forward together into the future.

Best,

Jim
Admiral, USN
Supreme Allied Commander, Europe
Commander, US European Command
"Stronger Together"

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Admiral James G. Stavridis

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