The USS Higgins during a joint Israeli-U.S. air-defense drill - Reuters - October 29, 2009.
The USS Higgins during a joint Israeli-U.S. air-defense exercise codenamed 'JuniperCobra' in the northern Israeli city of Haifa October 29, 2009. Photo by Reuters
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If we needed any more proof that Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak are still seriously considering an attack on Iran in the near future, the Time Magazine report Friday supplied it. The report said the U.S. has decided to downsize the scale of American forces participating in next month's joint U.S.-Israeli missile defense exercise. There could have been no clearer message from the Obama Administration to Israel’s leaders that they want nothing to do with an independent Israeli strike.

The Austere Challenge 2012 military drill, already postponed once, has been planned for a long time. Nearly 5,000 American troops are scheduled to arrive to Israel and attend the exercise, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Martin Dempsy declared only a month ago.

But now, the very same Dempsey who is on close terms with his Israeli counterparts and apparently speaking with IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz almost on a weekly basis, said Thursday in London that he doesn't want to be “complicit” in an Israeli attack on Iran, as if it was some sort of an international crime. And now the news broke that the U.S. is downsizing the military force participating in the Austere Challenge drill by about three-quarters.

Short of standing in front of the camera and specifically telling Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "do not attack Iran," an unthinkable act so close to the November 6 U.S. elections, this is the clearest message Barack Obama could have sent.

Now, the number of U.S. troops who would potentially be exposed to a retaliatory attack by Iran and its proxies has been minimized, as also the impression that the Austere Challenge drill is actually used as a cover for the positioning of anti-missile defense batteries in preparation of an American attack on Iran.

In fact, the U.S. administration has now announced quite openly that it will not be striking Iran this side of November, and will do everything in its power to discourage Israel from doing so either.

The latest quarterly report issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency on Iran’s full-throttle-ahead uranium enrichment efforts also changes nothing. None of the information specified in the report was new to both the U.S. and Israel. Clearly, the two countries have supplied the IAEA with much of the information, while there is no longer a dispute over the facts. The disagreement between Israel and the U.S. over the timing, effectiveness and desirability of a strike still remains, as does the political distrust between Netanyahu and Obama, which only deepens as Netanyahu’s patron Sheldon Adelson intensifies his efforts to bring about Obama’s defeat in two months.

The scaling back of Austere Challenge along with Dempsey’s words is also an indication that the Americans are not willing to bank on the assumption that Netanyahu is bluffing. As President Shimon Peres, who two weeks ago abandoned the Israeli President’s constitutional non-political position to warn against a unilateral attack on Iran, the Americans also realize that this is crunch-time – this is the time that the opposition to an Israeli strike, within Israel and in the U.S., has to pull out all the stops.