After Iran’s strikes on Israel, Juniper Oak exercises seen as a ‘harbinger’

A Middle East security expert briefed DefenseScoop on the observed impacts of the exercise series' promotion of combined training.
The “Juniper” series of events are designed to test collective U.S.-Israeli readiness and improve the interoperability of defense systems. (Photo source: IDF Spokesperson's Office and DVIDS)

Backed with integrated air defense assets and military support from the U.S., U.K., France and Jordan, Israel endured what it called light damage from the barrage of more than 300 missiles and drones that Iran launched into its territory in a retaliatory strike late April 13 and into the early hours of April 14.

Soon after, Defense Department officials and observers pointed to the Juniper Oak exercise series hosted jointly by the Israeli Defense Forces and U.S. Central Command as a key enabler behind Israel’s defense and resilience against Iran’s latest attack.

“Juniper Oak — and for those that aren’t tracking, it’s a combined joint all-domain exercise that really works to improve our ability to work with Israel on land, air, sea, space, and cyberspace — and so, it was notable that the exercise series included U.S. and Israeli command and control and air interdiction, both of which were critical on defending Israel Saturday night,” Pentagon Press Secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said at a press briefing on April 15. 

In particular, he spotlighted an iteration of Juniper Oak that unfolded in Jan. 2023, which included roughly 6,400 U.S. troops, more than 1,100 IDF personnel, six ships, 180,000 pounds of live munitions and a live fire exercise, with more than 140 aircraft. 


Among other aims, that exercise integrated U.S. and Israeli fifth-generation fighter assets.

“It’s this kind of strategic cooperation and combined training that allows us to do what we did together on Saturday night,” Ryder told reporters after the mid-April strikes. 

Iran launched its direct assault on Israeli territory in response to a suspected Israeli strike on its embassy compound in Syria that killed top Revolutionary Guards commanders April 1. It came on the heels of intensifying clashes between Israel and Iran’s regional allies, which were largely triggered by the war in Gaza.

According to Pentagon reports, among the weapons launched from locations in Iran, Syria and Yemen, there were more than 110 medium-range ballistic missiles, more than 30 land-attack cruise missiles, and more than 150 uncrewed aerial vehicles. 

In the aftermath, it became increasingly apparent that the U.S., U.K., France, and Jordan (not the IDF) together shot down the majority of the Iranian drones and missiles fired in the assault.


“We know Juniper Oak was a bilateral exercise — but what we saw over the course of the weekend also included European partners and Jordan. So in fact, it was more sophisticated than the exercise itself in terms of the complexity of forces in the fight, and the level of deconfliction, communication and interoperability required to be successful,” Jonathan Lord, senior fellow and director of the Middle East Security program at the Center for a New American Security, told DefenseScoop in a recent interview. 

“So in that sense, it’s really that Juniper Oak was certainly a harbinger, [but] this was certainly even more impressive,” Lord said. “This was a lethal attack — and uninterrupted, it would have been disastrous.” 

Before joining CNAS, Lord served as a professional staff member for the House Armed Services Committee, for which he handled the U.S. Central Command/Middle East defense policy portfolio and provided further expertise on issues related to security assistance. He also served previously as a political military analyst in the Department of Defense and the Iraq country director in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy.

In early 2023, Lord wrote an analysis on Juniper Oak and its overarching significance — arguing that the exercises’ size, scope, and complexity “set it apart from any that came before.”

Bilateral cyber incident response, agile combat deployment, and aerial refueling marked just some of the focus areas prioritized in the series.


“Obviously, there’s a moment of crisis right now, which is probably limiting this. But the U.S. enjoys a long security relationship with Israel and other partners and is very frequently engaging in military exercises with those partners to build those capabilities. Juniper Oak was one example of probably the largest and most complex one, but it’s certainly demonstrated that the U.S. and Israel have the capability to do this in a sophisticated way. They practiced it, and then it actually effectively achieved it in a moment of great consequence [over the weekend on April 13 and 14], which we witnessed,” Lord told DefenseScoop.

The U.S. and Israel did not publicly name a specific adversary in the exercise series last year.

“I think that’s largely for political sensitivities in the region,” Lord noted.

Still, he said the activities were meant to inform the types of operations the military partners would need to master to manage local threats, and establish command and control capabilities to enable multiple services to work together in a combined, multi-domain manner.

“So, we saw operations in the Mediterranean Sea that were combining air and naval assets. We saw land operations that were combining air and ground assets. In fact — and this is where it gets a little hinky and you won’t probably get many people to speak in much detail — but in fact, we also, in that exercise, had components there in the cyber and space domains as well. So it gets really, really sophisticated,” Lord said. 


“And you can do that with partners who themselves have worked to build sophisticated, complex professional militaries, either independently or with us. In the case of Israel and Jordan, it’s really both,” he added.

Spokespersons from the Pentagon and U.S. Central Command did not respond to DefenseScoop’s requests for comment regarding Juniper Oak, or any planned future exercises like it.

Brandi Vincent

Written by Brandi Vincent

Brandi Vincent is DefenseScoop's Pentagon correspondent. She reports on emerging and disruptive technologies, and associated policies, impacting the Defense Department and its personnel. Prior to joining Scoop News Group, Brandi produced a long-form documentary and worked as a journalist at Nextgov, Snapchat and NBC Network. She was named a 2021 Paul Miller Washington Fellow by the National Press Foundation and was awarded SIIA’s 2020 Jesse H. Neal Award for Best News Coverage. Brandi grew up in Louisiana and received a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland.

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