Analysis: Signaling and canceling

The cancellation is convenient for both Israel and the US, which are currently focused on stopping Iran’s nuclear program.

January 16, 2012 01:28
3 minute read.
GIVATI BRIGADE soldiers train with int'l forces

GIVATI BRIGADE soldiers train with international forces 311. (photo credit: IDF Spokesman’s Office)


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One morning last week, senior officers from the Israel Air Force’s Air Defense Division gathered in Tel Aviv for a discussion about missile defense plans for the coming year. The planned joint drill with the United States was brought up and the meeting ended with the participants under the impression that it was still on schedule for April 2012.

That was on Thursday.

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US EUCOM: Missile drill will take place later this year
US looking for assurances J'lem won't strike Iran

On Friday morning, the IAF was informed that the drill had been canceled following a series of discussions between Defense Minister Ehud Barak and top Pentagon officials.

The IAF was taken by surprise. It had been planning the joint exercise with the US European Command (EUCOM) for the past two years. It was supposed to be the largest ever missile defense drill for the two countries.

As a possible war with Iran looms on the horizon, canceling a missile defense drill meant to reassure Israel and instill confidence in Jerusalem was quite shocking.

Add to this that just a month ago a top EUCOM general visited Israel to finalize plans for the exercise, and a month before that US Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro had hailed the drill as a demonstration of the Obama administration’s commitment to Israel’s security.

Due to the sensitivity of the issue, it was difficult on Sunday to get a clear explanation from the IDF or the Defense Ministry for the reasons behind the decision to cancel the drill. (There is a possibility it will still be held, but in late 2012.) The reason given by some defense officials – that Israel asked to cancel the exercise due to cuts in the defense budget – was ridiculous since the drill was to be almost fully funded by the United States.

Another explanation – that US defense cuts were the reason – was also strange since in an election year, the last thing US President Barack Obama needs is to be perceived as abandoning Israel’s security.

It is not inconceivable that Israel asked to cancel the exercise because it might be  planning something vis-a-vis Iran for the spring and does not want to get the US tangled up in what will evolve.

Another possibility is that Israel is not planning anything but wants the US to think it is – basically another step in the “hold me back” strategy.

Either way, the cancellation is convenient for both Israel and the US, which are currently focused on stopping Iran’s nuclear program. As reported in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend, the US is also bolstering defenses around facilities in the Middle East. Deploying missile defense systems in Israel could take away from those defenses.

Either way, Israel is more focused on getting the US to ratchet up diplomacy and sanctions against Iran. Vice Premier Moshe Ya’alon expressed the government’s disappointment on Sunday in a radio interview saying that “election-year considerations” were stopping Obama from imposing tougher sanctions that could stop Iran.

Despite the disappointment, coordination between the two sides is at a high level. Obama spoke last Thursday with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu about Iran, and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz will meet later this week with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey in Brussels, and again in Tel Aviv.

Like almost everything in the Middle East these days, the missile defense drill was meant to send a message, mainly that the US has Israel’s back. That is likely still the case. The Iranians are now left to wonder about the significance

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