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Joint US-Israel missile drill delayed
By YAAKOV KATZ
15/01/2012
EUCOM says exercise will be held toward end of year; "Austere Challenge" is billed as largest such joint drill ever.
 
Israel and the US have decided to cancel a massive missile defense drill planned for the spring, amid concern the exercise could lead to an escalation with Iran, senior defense officials said Sunday.

The sides are in discussion about holding the drill toward the end of the year.

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Initially scheduled for April and called “Austere Challenge,” the drill was supposed to see the deployment of thousands of US troops and sophisticated US missile defense systems in Israel.

In recent weeks, Defense Minister Ehud Barak led talks with the Pentagon about the possibility of canceling the drill and holding it at a later date.

Senior IDF sources told The Jerusalem Post that the announcement about the cancellation had been made on Friday. US military officials said they were in talks with Israel about rescheduling the drill toward the end of the year.

“We are going to be conducting the exercise in the second half of 2012,” said 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 drill was supposed to include the simulation of various missile defense scenarios with the objective of creating a high level of interoperability so that, if needed, US missile defense systems would be able to deploy in Israel and work with local defense systems during a conflict.

Talks about postponing the drill took the Israel Air Force’s Air Defense Division by surprise. Just last Thursday, top IAF officers had said it was scheduled for this spring.

The exercise was expected to be unique in its size and scope, and would also mark the first time EUCOM commander Adm. James Stavridis participated in the simulations.

In the event of war, the EUCOM commander would be responsible for approving Israeli requests to deploy US missile defense systems in Israel.

The planned drill had raised tensions in the region amid concern that Israel was planning an attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities soon, and therefore was bolstering its defenses together with the US.

Later this week, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.- Gen. Benny Gantz will fly to Brussels for a meeting of NATO military commanders.

He will return to Israel on Thursday to greet Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, who will be arriving in Tel Aviv for his first official visit.
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