US Cuts Short Military Exercise with Israel to Contain Coronavirus Spread

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Marine Corps Light Armored Vehicles Israeli national training center
U.S. Marine Corps Light Armored Vehicles (LAV) are staged prior to training alongside Israeli soldiers as part of exercise Juniper Cobra at the Israeli national training center, Mar. 12, 2018. (U.S. Marine Corps photo/Eric L. Alabiso II)

In a late precautionary move Thursday, U.S. European Command called off a military exercise in Israel that had already begun in an effort to contain the spread of coronavirus.

A missile defense exercise with the Israeli Defense Forces called Juniper Cobra 20 began Tuesday, but EUCOM said the remainder, which had been scheduled to run through March 13, was being canceled as a precaution.

It was not immediately clear how many U.S. troops were actually on the ground in Israel before they were pulled back.

In a statement Tuesday announcing that Juniper Cobra would start as planned, EUCOM said about 2,500 U.S. service members would be supporting the exercise. However, Israeli media reports said that a total of about 600 troops from the U.S. and Germany would be participating in Israel.

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EUCOM said that the cancellation is in line with guidance from the Ministry of Health in Israel, where 15 Israelis have tested positive for coronavirus, thousands have been placed in isolation and gatherings of more than 5,000 people have been banned.

Israel began taking strict measures against the epidemic last week.

The initial Tuesday announcement quoted Air Force Lt. Gen. Steven Basham, deputy commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa, as saying that Juniper Cobra "will improve our combined ability to deter and, if needed, defend against missile threats by bolstering the integration and interoperability of our two forces."

However, EUCOM said Thursday that the exercise was broken off "as a precautionary measure to ensure the health and safety of all participants."

On Monday, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley cautioned that more joint military exercises with other nations could be called off to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

U.S. Forces Korea last week canceled an upcoming annual exercise with Republic of Korea forces in South Korea, where the largest number of confirmed coronavirus cases has been reported outside China. Those cases include a 23-year-old U.S. soldier and a 61-year-old female military dependent.

"Right now, the overall broad impact to the uniformed military is very minimal," Milley said at a joint Pentagon news conference Monday with Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

"We have modified some of the exercises on the Korean peninsula," Milley said, and "we're taking a look at some other exercises" worldwide for possible cancellation or rescheduling.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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