'US makes massive reduction to joint military exercise'

Originally slated to include 5,000 US troops, Washington will only send 1,500 to participate in Austere Challenge 12 with Israel, TIME reports, as US and Israel appear to be at impasse over possible strike on Iran.

A launch in a US missile defense drill 311 (photo credit: US Navy)
A launch in a US missile defense drill 311
(photo credit: US Navy)
The United States has reduced the size of a joint military exercise with Israel that was originally billed as being of unprecedented size, TIME Magazine reported Friday, citing "well-placed sources in both countries." The reduction, although officially attributed to budgetary restrictions, was put into the context of Washington's opposition to a military attack on Iran's nuclear program.
The report quoted a senior Israeli military official speculating, "Basically what the Americans are saying is, ‘We don’t trust you.’”
The annual exercise, Austere Challenge 12, was originally slated to include some 5,000 US troops, according to TIME. Instead, the United States will send anywhere between 1,200 and 1,500 troops, TIME reported.
Washington will still send the Patriot missile defense systems it planned to provide, but the crews that man them will not arrive, TIME reported. Whereas two Aegis ballistic missile defense ships were slated to arrive for the drill, only one is currently expected.
The drill, called Austere Challenge 12, was initially scheduled for April but was surprisingly postponed by Israel in January under a variety of budgetary and logistical claims.
The Defense Ministry admitted at the time that Defense Minister Ehud Barak was behind the decision to cancel the drill. This led to speculation that Israel was either planning on attacking Iran in the spring and therefore did not want US troops in the country or wanted to cause the US to think that it was planning an attack to get the administration to escalate sanctions.
The current reduction, US military sources told TIME, was made in full coordination with Israel.
Not specifically referring to the exercise, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey said Thursday that he did not want to be "complicit" if Israel chose to strike Iran's nuclear program, positing that a premature attack would dissolve the international pressure on the Islamic Republic, The Guardian reported.
Speaking to journalists in London, Dempsey said an attack would "clearly delay but probably not destroy Iran's nuclear program," but added that the "international coalition" pressuring Iran "could be undone if it was attacked prematurely."
"I don't want to be complicit if they [Israel] choose to do it," he added.
Earlier this year, while discussing Austere Challenge 12, Dempsey said, "We rescheduled it for October-November time frame," adding, "I really don't know what the final decision was, but it is our expectation that that's when the event will occur."
In April, the US's EUCOM spokesman Capt. John Ross said that Austere Challenge was being held “in the context of a long-standing strategic partnership” with Israel and was part of a routine training cycle designed to improve cooperation. It was not in response to current events, such as the Iranian nuclear threat, he said.
Yaakov Katz and Reuters contributed to this report.