US helps Israel prepare for military ‘escalation’
Israel and the United States have carried out joint military drills aiming to coordinate air defenses, intelligence and logistics in the event that fighting breaks out with armed groups in southern Lebanon, Haaretz reported on Wednesday.
Conducted over the last week and overseen by US Central Command (CENTCOM) and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), the exercises aimed to prepare both countries for “a military escalation on Israel's northern front,” according to the newspaper.
However, while CENTCOM and the IDF gamed out a number of scenarios, the two sides did not discuss the possibility of “active US involvement” in Israeli strikes on Hezbollah, a militant group and political organization based in Lebanon which has clashed on and off with Israeli forces since its founding in the 1980s.
This week’s drill focused on the potential for fighting in Israel’s north, as well as how to respond to “Iranian involvement alongside Hezbollah in Lebanon,” Haaretz added.
Though US military ties with Israel were previously coordinated under the European Command (EUCOM), those responsibilities were passed to CENTCOM last September. The move has resulted in increased cooperation between the two sides, including the latest round of exercises. Similar drills had not been held under EUCOM for several years, instead focusing on defensive systems alone.
The IDF announced that it would conduct exercises along the border with Lebanon last week, including artillery drills, though did not mention any American involvement at the time.
The military activity comes amid a territorial spat between Israel and Lebanon, with the two sides laying competing claims to energy-rich areas of the Mediterranean. Earlier this month, Lebanese President Michel Aoun warned that any attempt to tap the offshore riches without first resolving the dispute would be seen as a “provocation,” while recent Israeli media reports have stated the IDF is preparing for a possible attack on drilling platforms near the contested waters.