Joint US-Israel war games planned for this spring simulating war with Iran have apparently been cancelled, according to multiple news agencies in Israel Sunday.
Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, is scheduled for talks in Israel this week, Israel said Sunday, at a time when the United States is concerned that Israel might be preparing to attack Iran over its nuclear program.
UPDATE: Agence France-Presse is now reporting:
Israel and the United States have agreed to postpone a major military defence exercise scheduled for spring, a senior security official said Sunday, amid rising regional tension over Iran's nuclear program.
"Israel and the United States have agreed to postpone the maneuvre planned for spring," the official said on condition of anonymity.
"The exercises will take place between now and the end of 2012," the official added, without elaborating.
Earlier, public radio said the "Austere Challenge 12" exercise would be pushed back to the end of 2012 over unspecified budgetary concerns, citing military sources.
Army radio, citing a defence official, said it was being postponed to avoid "unnecessary headlines in such a tense period."[...]
The postponement appeared to suggest fears the exercise could dangerously ramp up regional tensions, at a time when Iran has already threatened to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz -- a choke-point for one fifth of the world's traded oil -- in the event of a military strike or severe tightening of international sanctions over its nuclear program.
DEBKAfile, the Jerusalem-based English language Israeli military intelligence website, is reporting:
US-Israeli discord over action against Iran went into overdrive Sunday, Jan. 15 when the White House called off Austere Challenge 12, the biggest joint war game the US and Israel have ever staged, ready to go in spring, in reprisal for a comment by Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon in an early morning radio interview. He said the United States was hesitant over sanctions against Iran's central bank and oil for fear of a spike in oil prices.
The row between Washington and Jerusalem is now in the open, undoubtedly causing celebration in Tehran.
Nothing was said about the 9,000 US troops who landed in Israeli earlier this month for a lengthy stay. Neither was the forthcoming visit by Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint US Chiefs of Staff.
The exercise was officially postponed from spring 2012 to the last quarter of the year over "budgetary constraints" – an obvious diplomatic locution for cancellation. It was issued urgently at an unusually early hour Washington time, say Debka's sources, to underscore the Obama administration's total disassociation from any preparations to strike Iran and to stress its position that if an attack took place, Israel alone would be accountable.
Israel's Deputy Prime minister further inflamed one of the most acute disagreements in the history of US-Israeli relations over the Obama administration's objections to an Israel military action against Iran's nuclear sites in any shape or form. Yaalon ventured into tricky terrain when he pointed out that US Congress had shown resolve by enacting legislation for sanctions with real bite. But the White House "hesitated." He went on to say: "A military operation is the last resort, but Israel must be ready to defend itself."
The friction was already fueled last week by the deep resentment aroused in Israel by Washington's harsh condemnation of the assassination last Wednesday, Jan. 11, of the nuclear scientist Prof. Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan, and absolute denial of any US involvement.
Although Tehran has since accused the United States of the attack, the White House treated it as the defiant sign of an approaching unilateral Israeli military operation against Iran to which the administration is adamantly opposed.
The Jerusalem Post is reporting Sunday:
Israel and the US are in talks about the possibility of canceling a missile defense drill, billed as the largest ever in the country's history, planned for the spring.
Initially scheduled for April and called "Austere Challenge," the drill was supposed to see the deployment of thousands of US troops and various sophisticated US military equipment in Israel.
In recent weeks, Defense Minister Ehud Barak's office has held talks with the Pentagon about the possibility of canceling the drill.
Senior military officers told The Jerusalem Post that the drill scheduled for April has been canceled, while defense officials said that it was possible that it would be held later in 2012.
The drill, expected to involve the deployment of thousands of US troops in Israel, was scheduled to last around a week and mark the first time that a top US military commander would participate in the simulations.
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Meanwhile, Israel's Ha'aretz reports:
A senior Israeli official voiced disappointment in the Obama administration on Sunday, saying "election-year considerations" lay behind its caution over tough Iran sanctions sought by U.S. legislators.
While Washington has been talking tougher about Iran's nuclear work and threat to block oil export routes out of the Gulf if hit with harsher sanctions, new U.S. measures adopted on Dec. 31 gave President Barak Obama leeway on the scope of penalties on the Iranian central bank and oil exports.[...]
The remarks by Ya’alon, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party, appeared to jar with praise centrist Defense Minister Ehud Barak offered last month for what he described as Obama's resolve against Iran.
Running for re-election in the face of Republicans who hold sway over big pro-Israel constituencies, Obama has sought to burnish his credentials as a friend of the Jewish state despite having frosty relations with Netanyahu.