The United States and Israel agreed to postpone a large joint military exercise from this spring to late in the year to avoid aggravating an already tense regional situation driven by conflicts with Iran, Israeli media reported Sunday.
The drill, slated for May and named “Austere Challenge,” was announced in November by Andrew Shapiro, U.S. assistant secretary of State for politics-military affairs, at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The exercise as originally planned would include more than 5,000 U.S. and Israeli forces and, among other things, simulate Israel’s ballistic missile defense. It would be the “largest and most significant joint exercise in the allies’ history,” Shapiro had said.
The drill was announced shortly after American military officials reportedly expressed concern that Israel was preparing an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities and would not warn them in advance. Although American and U.S. officials are in close contact on defense matters, especially regarding Iran’s disputed nuclear program, Jerusalem and Washington are at odds over how aggressively to approach with the issue.
U.S. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is scheduled to arrive in Israel this week for talks with his Israeli counterpart, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz. Dempsey may also meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Talk of a military strike against Iran to stop its nuclear program continues to buzz, adding to tensions surrounding recent developments that include the assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist last week in Tehran. Iranian officials, who maintain that their nuclear research is intended for peaceful purposes, accused Israel and the U.S. of responsibility for the attack. Both denied involvement.
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SOURCE: Los Angeles Times