Largest US-Israeli Joint Military Exercise Begins

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TEL AVIV, Israel -- The Israel Defense Forces and the U.S. military began the largest-ever joint anti-missile exercise this week as Hamas launched one of the biggest missile barrages of the year at southern Israel from the Gaza Strip.

The joint exercise is called Austere Challenge 12.

"Make no mistake, the United States is 100 percent committed to the security of Israel," said Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, commander of the U.S. 3rd Air Force, EUCOM.

"That commitment drives the goals of this exercise and that is to test and hone our combined ability to defend against missile attacks as we seek to maintain peace through preparedness," he said.

The exercise uses the Patriot anti-missile system; the Aegis ballistic defense ship, and the cooperation of the Israeli and U.S. military. Two of the Patriot battery commanders are women.

"I think it's great. The people are great. Very warm, very nice," said Capt. Shlomit Roninsky, IDF Patriot battery commander.

"I met the foreign battery commander and it's very interesting to talk with them, 'Oh, this is what's going on in my battery; this is what's going on in her battery,'" Roninsky said.

"For us to have the same issues and the same problems and the same great soldiers, it's just been amazing to hear that from another foreign unit," said Capt. Mary Thornton, U.S. Patriot battery commander.

Gen. Franklin stressed the exercise was not related to any current threat, but it's clear Iran and Syria, each with hundreds of missiles, represent a clear and present danger to Israel.

Patriot anti-missile batteries have been deployed throughout Israel. Capt. Roninsky's battery is stationed temporarily just outside Tel Aviv for this exercise. In case of a future missile attack, Tel Aviv is expected to be ground zero.

Meanwhile, southern Israel became ground zero this week after Hamas and other terror groups fired more than 80 rockets and mortars into Israel within 24 hours.

It sent thousands of Israelis scurrying for shelter.

"Our car was hit and some houses nearby. It was very scary, very, very scary," resident Michal Aardening said.

IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich told CBN News that "Gaza is a hub of terror organizations."

"Different terror organizations have different motives.  Some have jihadi ideology behind them. Others just want to kill as many Israelis as possible," Leibovich said. "Part of the strategy is operating in early morning hours when children are off to school and people are off to work away from their shelters."

The damage would have been worse but Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile shield shot down a number of the rockets.

An uneasy truce fell on southern Israel but many expect the quiet to be short-lived.

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