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U.S., Israel begin joint military exercise in show of unity in Middle East

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The U.S. military and Israeli Defense Force began their first joint exercise under IDF’s new leadership Monday. File Photo By Gary I Rothstein/UPI
The U.S. military and Israeli Defense Force began their first joint exercise under IDF’s new leadership Monday. File Photo By Gary I Rothstein/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 23 (UPI) -- The U.S. military and Israeli Defense Force began their first joint exercise under IDF's new leadership Monday.

The exercise, Juniper Oak 23.2, is underway in Israel and on the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.

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The combined military forces face seven missions ranging from air defense to an electronic attack, a press release from U.S. Central Command said. Naval, air and ground forces are all taking part.

"Consistent with CENTCOM's strategic approach of people, partners, and innovation, we are committed to strengthening military-to-military relations throughout the region," said Gen. Michael Kurilla, commander of CENTCOM.

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About 6,400 U.S. troops and another 1,100 soldiers from Israel are involved in the exercise, according to NBC News, making it one of the largest joint exercises between the ally nations.

More than 140 aircraft will be deployed in a "large-scale live fire event" featuring B-52s, F-35s, F-16s, naval vessels, rocket defense systems and more.

"These kinds of exercises -- which CENTCOM routinely conducts with our partners -- develop interoperability between military forces, increase military capabilities, and are important to the security and stability of the region. The lessons learned during these exercises are exportable to our partners across the region," Kurilla said.

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Kurilla, the top U.S. general for the Middle East, met with Israel's newest defense leaders on Wednesday in Tel Aviv. Together, they discussed threats to the Middle East, including Iran.

Keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of Iran has been among Kurilla's foremost charges. In his confirmation hearing last year he said Iran was the "number one destabilizing factor" in the Middle East.

On Monday, the United States joined Britain and the European Union in adding a new round of sanctions against Iran, including its ground force commander Kiyumars Heidari, for human rights abuses committed in its attempts to quell protests.

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