'Israel and U.S. Postpone Massive Defense Drill in Fear of Escalation With Iran'

Israeli defense officials tell Channel 2 that Washington wants to avoid causing further tensions in region after various foreign reports of U.S. and Israeli preparations for strike on Iran.

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Israel and the United States have postponed a massive joint defense exercise, which was expected to be carried out in the coming weeks, in order to avoid an escalation with Iran, Channel 2 reported on Sunday.

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Artillery exercise in Israel's south, July 15, 2008.Credit: IDF Spokesman's Office

According to an Israeli defense official, Washington wants to avoid causing further tensions in the region, especially in light of the sensitive situation that has been generated after various reports in the international media that the U.S. and Israel are preparing to strike Iran's nuclear facilities.

The drill, codenamed Austere Challenge 12, was supposed to simulate the missiles fired by Iran or other antagonistic states toward Israel. Defense officials told Channel 2 on Sunday that the drill is now scheduled to take place in the summer.

Both Israeli and U.S. officials said the exercise would be the largest-ever joint drill by the two countries, involving thousands of U.S. soldiers.

News of it came amid heightened tensions between U.S. allies and Iran, after Tehran threatened it could close the Strait of Hormuz, a crucial oil supply route.

But the IDF said the drill was planned long ago and is not tied to recent events. The drill "is not in response to any real-world event," the IDF wrote in a statement last week.

The Defense Ministry said in an official statement that the postponement of the drill has not yet been announced, and that the subject is currently being discussed between Israeli and U.S. officials.

They did note, however, that the drill was not canceled due to budget considerations.

In late 2009, Israel and the United States also held a huge joint missile defense exercise, involving about 1,000 U.S. troops, alongside an equal number of Israeli military personnel.



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