January 15, 2012

“Austere Challenge 12”, the US-Israel joint-missile defense drill, has been postponed till the summer at the earliest, according to Israeli media. Some link the move to Washington’s growing concern Israel may be planning a unilateral attack on Iran.

­The drill, originally set for April, was intended to create a high level of interoperability between the two countries’ missile defense systems. Thousands of US troops would be deployed in Israel to be joined by an equal number of Israeli soldiers. It would also be the first time a top US commander (Admiral James Stavridis of the US European Command) has been assigned to participate in the simulations.

The maneuvers had been scheduled to take place at a time of spiraling tensions around Iran. Moreover, the probability loomed they would coincide with Iran’s own large-scale naval war games.

Israel denies any link between “Austere Challenge 12” and the political build-up in the Gulf, saying their joint drill with the US was “routine,” “planned in advance” and “not in response to any real-world event,” reports Agence France Presse.

Despite the claims, the drill, unique in its size and scope, has sparked concerns in the region that Israel may be bolstering its defense with US troops for an imminent strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Now the drill has been postponed due to “technical and logistical” reasons, or, as Israeli public radio puts it, “budgetary constraints.” Analysts suggest Washington does not want to put a burning match close to Iran’s tinderbox. Moreover, there is also major disagreement between Israel and the US on the red lines for a strike on Iran.

This, according to the Associated Press, is likely to head the agenda that General Martin Dempsey, a top US military chief, is taking to Israel for next weekend’s discussions with Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, and the chief of staff, Benny Gantz. Israeli media speculate Dempsey’s visit is a part of the US effort to avoid any “surprise” on Iran coming from Israel.

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