Washington’s decision to scale down its involvement in an upcoming joint
ballistic missile drill with Israel is not a sign of change in bilateral
relations, a senior Israeli defense source told The Jerusalem Post on
Time magazine reported on Friday that initially about 5,000 US
troops were planned to be involved in Austere Challenge 12 but that the number
was being pared back to between 1,200 and 1,500.
It quoted an unnamed
Israeli military official as saying the change was a sign of US mistrust of
Israel due to disagreements on how to deal with Iran’s nuclear
Responding to the report, the defense source said, “All of the
commentary on this has been wrong. There is no great significance. Nothing has
The source stressed that the drill is still the largest held by
the US and Israel to date, even with the smaller American force.
cooperation between Israel and the US has never been better,” the source
The Pentagon confirmed on Friday that fewer US military personnel
will take part than initially planned, but it rejected the claim that “mistrust”
of Israel was behind the change.
The exercise is being planned amid
increasing talk of war in the media and reports that Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are debating a unilateral attack on
Iran to knock out its nuclear installations. Washington has cautioned Israel
against going it alone.
“Austere Challenge 12 remains the largest-ever
ballistic missile defense exercise between our nations and a significant
increase from the previous event in 2009,” said US Air Force Lt.-Col. Jack
Miller, a Pentagon spokesman.
“The exercise has not changed in scope and
will include the same types of systems as planned. All deployed systems will be
fully operational with associated operators,” Miller said.
US-Israeli ties were strong and Austere Challenge “is a tangible sign of our
A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity,
declined to say how many US personnel would be involved in the exercise but said
the reported figures were wrong and the change in scale was far smaller than
An Israeli defense official briefed on the exercise told
Reuters the drill “will be held on a similar scale as when it was last held, two
The Israeli official said the size of the exercise was
initially slated to be larger but added that “the changes are within the
framework of the drill’s requirements and nothing more.”
are planned over a long time and changes are not uncommon,” the official
Miller said the exercise was initially planned for May but earlier
this year, Israeli defense officials approached the US about shifting the date
until late autumn.
“When the exercise was moved, the United States
notified Israel that due to concurrent operations, the United States would
provide a smaller number of personnel and equipment than originally
Israel reiterated to postpone until late fall,” Miller said.