Israel, US postpone huge missile defence drill
Israel and the United States have postponed a huge joint defence exercise which had been expected in the coming weeks, the Israeli military confirmed Monday.
"Following close consultation between US European Command (EUCOM) and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), exercise 'Austere Challenge 12' will be conducted during the second half of 2012," said an army statement, DPA reported.
The exercise would have been the largest ever held with the US in Israel, according to Israeli media.
The army gave no reason for the postponement. Israel Radio had on Sunday blamed budgetary reasons, but on Monday Israeli newspapers reported that the US was concerned that holding the drill as planned could have been interpreted by Iran as a provocation.
"The goal is not to heat up the region," a senior security official told Israel's biggest-selling daily, Yediot Ahronot, on condition of anonymity.
The drill was to simulate missiles fired by Iran, or other antagonistic states, such as Syria, landing in Israel. The US has supplied Israel with interception batteries.
Israeli media have said it would be the largest ever joint US-Israeli exercise, involving the arrival of thousands of US soldiers.
But tensions are currently high between US allies and Iran, after Tehran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, a crucial oil supply route.
The Israeli military said the drill was "part of a routine training cycle" and had been planned before the latest escalation in tensions.
The drill "is not in response to any real-world event," the army said last week.
In late 2009, Israel and the US also held a huge joint missile defence exercise, involving about 1,000 US troops, alongside an equal number of Israeli military personnel.