Israeli-US War Games Postponed

The Israeli and U.S. militaries have
postponed large-scale war games, in part to avoid aggravating mounting
tensions between the international community and Iran over its disputed
nuclear program, Israeli defense officials said Monday.


The missile defense
exercise, dubbed “Austere Challenge 12,” was scheduled for April to
improve defense systems and cooperation between U.S. and Israeli forces.
The officials said the drill would be rescheduled for the second half
of 2012.

They spoke on condition of anonymity
because they weren’t authorized to discuss the decision, which they said
was taken on Sunday. They offered no other reasons for the deferral.

Thousands
of American and Israeli soldiers were to take part in the exercise,
which was designed to test multiple Israeli and U.S. air defense systems
against incoming missiles and rockets from places as far away as Iran.

U.S.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said last month that the drill
exemplified unprecedented levels of defense cooperation between the two
countries meant to back up Washington’s “unshakable” commitment to
Israel’s security.

On Thursday, the top U.S.
military commander is due to arrive in Israel for his first official
trip since becoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Sept. 30.
Iran is expected to be at the top of his agenda for talks with the
Israelis.

Israel considers a nuclear-armed
Iran to be a threat to its survival and repeatedly has hinted it could
take military action against the Islamic Republic should international
sanctions fail to stop Iran’s nuclear development.

The
Obama administration is concerned that Iran’s recent claim that it is
expanding nuclear operations might prod Israel closer to a strike.

Iran,
which denies it is trying to develop nuclear weapons, has shown no sign
it would willingly give up a project that has become a point of
national pride.

Tehran insists its nuclear
program is designed to produce energy, not bombs. It has threatened to
block the strategic Strait of Hormuz, the passage for one-sixth of the
world’s oil, should international sanctions block Iran’s petroleum
exports.

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