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A launch in a US missile defense drill 311.(Photo by: US Navy)
Joint drill with US to be held after delay
By YAAKOV KATZ
02/06/2012
Israel, US to hold Austere Challenge missile-defense exercise before the end of the year, likely in October or November.
Israel and the United States will hold the postponed Austere Challenge missile-defense exercise before the end of the year, likely in October or November.

Senior American military officers from the European Command are scheduled to arrive in Israel later this month to finalize plans to hold the exercise, which has been billed as the largest joint missile-defense exercise in the countries’ history.

The drill was initially scheduled for April and was supposed to see the deployment of thousands of US troops and various sophisticated American military equipment in Israel.

In December, however, Defense Minister Ehud Barak asked the Pentagon to consider the possibility of postponing the drill until later this year. Talks about postponing the drill took the Americans as well as the Israel Air Force’s Air Defense division, which is responsible for missile defense in the IDF, by surprise.

The Defense Ministry never gave an official explanation for its decision to postpone the maneuvers, citing instead vague reasons ranging from budget to logistical problems. It is considered more likely, however, that Israel asked to postpone the drill due to the possibility it might decide to attack Iran sometime in the near future.

It is possible that Israel did not want American troops in the country at a time when it might be preparing such a strike and also did not want to be accused of implicating the US in helping Israel prepare for the strike by the mere fact that its soldiers were in the country prior to an attack.

Israel and the US will use the drill to simulate 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 work with Israeli systems during a conflict.

This year’s drill is expected to be unique in its size and scope, and will also mark the first time that commander of the US European Command Adm.

James Stavridis will 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.

The IAF is also planning to hold a massive international drill in Israel in 2013 and is inviting air forces from around the world to participate. The United States is expected to send at least one fighter squadron to the drill, in addition to several European countries.

Israel has significantly increased the frequency of its joint maneuvers with foreign air forces in recent years as part of the IAF’s desire to learn from its counterparts overseas and to train with other aircraft that it does not encounter regularly, such as the Typhoon and the Eurofighter, planes that are in the hands of some Arab nations in the Middle East.

IAF sources said that the international drill was still in the planning stages, but that it would hopefully attract a large number of participants. Over the past year, the IAF has held joint aerial maneuvers with Romania, Italy and Greece.
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