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Largest Ever U.S.-Israel Military Drill Postponed Amid Rising Tensions with Iran

Arrow 3 Defense Missile Launch Test (Photo credit: Israeli Defense Ministry via Israel Hayom)

The largest joint defense drill ever between the U.S. and Israel has been postponed.

Israel state radio – Reshet Bet [Hebrew link] – first reported on Sunday that the drill would be delayed due to “budgetary constraints.” However, IDF Radio later in the day quoted military officials saying the motivation was to prevent “unnecessary headlines.”

Reshet Bet’s military affairs correspondent Carmela Menasheh said that Israeli defense officials spoke with their American counterparts last month at which time the decision on the delay was made.

On Sunday night, Ynet reported:

Israeli officials said the Americans asked to delay the drill so as not to heighten tensions with Iran over its nuclear program and avoid drawing any additional attention from the Arab countries during such a turbulent period. Security establishment officials said the decision was also related, in part, to budgetary concerns.

An Israeli Ministry of Defense spokesman tells The Blaze, “No final decision on the matter has been made. It’s still being discussed with the Americans.” The IDF would not comment. The U.S. European Command Sunday provided information on the new timing:

“We are going to be conducting the exercise in the second half of 2012,” explained Capt. John Ross, spokesman for the US European Command (EUCOM). “It is not unusual for such exercises to be postponed and leaders of both sides believe that the best participation of all units will be best achieved later in the year.”

The delay comes as a surprise particularly because as late as last Sunday, the IDF was still distributing a written statement describing the joint drill as “another milestone in the strategic relationship between the US and Israel, as well as a step forward in promoting regional stability.”

Though the IDF said the planned exercise was “not in response to any real-world event,” it was widely regarded as one of several actions sending a tough signal to Iran, including increased sanctions, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s explicit definition of two red lines – an Iranian closing of the Strait of Hormuz and the development of a nuclear weapon – sending another aircraft carrier strike group to the Arabian Sea, and the British deployment to the Persian Gulf of its largest warship the HMS Daring.

The joint drill, called “Austere Challenge 12” was expected to involve thousands of American and Israeli military personnel, testing a variety of air defense systems and drilling the response to incoming missiles.

Arutz 7 writes:

The sudden postponement of the “Austere Challenge,” ballyhooed by observers as a saber-rattling message to Iran, official[ly] was attributed to budgetary and logistical problems. However, considering Israel’s anxiety over Iran’s progress towards manufacturing a nuclear weapon, it is difficult to believe that money is a problem.

According to Israeli media reports, the joint exercise was originally expected to occur in the spring. The Jerusalem Post on Sunday reported that the two sides were discussing a two to three month delay to the exercise or might altogether cancel the exercise that was expected to last a week. It then updated its story to include EUCOM’s anticipated timing for the drill.  It wrote:

Talks about postponing the drill took the Americans, as well as the Israeli Air Defense division, responsible for missile defense, by surprise. Just last Thursday, top IAF officers had said that the drill was scheduled for this spring.

This year’s drill was expected to be unique in its size and scope and also mark the first time that commander of the US European Command, Adm. James Stavridis, would participate in the simulations. In the event of war, the EUCOM commander will be responsible for approving Israeli requests to deploy US missile defense systems in Israel.

The planned drill had caused tension in the region amid concern that Israel is planning an attack against Iran's nuclear facilities in the near future, and therefore is bolstering its defenses together with the US.

It is possible that talks about postponing the drill can also be contributed to increased American concern that an Israeli strike is being planned.

Arutz 7 suggested that the extra time would allow more opportunity for sanctions to work, hopefully precluding the need for military action.

This article has been updated to include EUCOM statement and detail on reasons for delay.

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