Amid growing tensions in the Persian Gulf, the US and Israel are preparing to hold the largest missile defense exercise in the history of the Jewish state. Last month, Lt.-Gen. Frank Gorenc, commander of the US Third Air Force, based in Germany, visited Israel to finalize plans for the upcoming exercise, expected to see the deployment of several thousand US soldiers in Israel. The drill will include establishment of US command posts in Israel and IDF command posts at European Command headquarters in Germany.
The US will also bring its Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and ship-based Aegis missile defense systems to Israel to simulate the interception of strikes on Israel. The US systems will work in conjunction with Israel’s missile defense systems—the Arrow, Patriot and Iron Dome. Gorenc will coordinate the exercise, set to start in the spring with Brig.-Gen. Doron Gavish, commander of the Israeli Air Force’s Air Defense Division. (JP, Dec. 20)
Israeli and Palestinian officials met for the first time in more than a year in Amman on Jan. 3, and agreed to hold further preliminary talks in Jordan as part of an effort to renew formal peace negotiations. “We do not want to raise our expectations at this stage, but we also do not want to underestimate the importance of the meeting, which gathered the Palestinians and the Israelis face to face,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said at a press conference. The meeting of Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat and his Israeli counterpart, Yitzhak Molcho—the first since the breakdown of talks in September 2010—was arranged by the international group known as the Quartet, with help from Jordan’s King Abdullah. (Bloomberg, Jan. 4)
But Hamas leader Ismail Radwan said the Amman meeting would damage Fatah's reconciliation deal with his faction. "We consider these meetings a blow for national reconciliation, especially as we agreed in Cairo to face Israel's settlements, wall, and attacks together," Radwan said during a meeting of the community reconciliation committee in Gaza.
Hamas signed a unity deal with Fatah in May 2011 which sought to end four years of divided government in Gaza and the West Bank. The agreement aimed to establish a common national strategy. Hamas has said it will join the umbrella Palestinian Liberation Organization, which represents Palestinians in talks.
However, Hamas reiterated its long-time opposition to negotiations with Israel. In a show of strength, thousands of Hamas supporters attend a rally in Gaza City on Dec. 14 marking the 24th anniversary of the Islamic movement's foundation. (Ma'an News Agency, Jan. 4)