Dubbed “Austere Challenge 12″, the joint missile defense exercise scheduled for this spring between Israel and the United States was supposed to be the largest ever of it’s kind held by the two allies.
On Monday, Israeli media reported that the exercise was to be postponed, citing domestic budget issues. Later that day, Laura Rozen published a piece that said the Israeli medias leak of the postponement led to confusion about who exactly initiated the idea of postponement.
“There were a variety of factors at play in this case, but leaders from both sides believe that optimum participation by all units is best achieved later in the year,” American Captain John Ross said in a statement to reporters.
It was presumed by some that the U.S. administration initiated the postponement, in order to deflate tensions in the region, and in particular, with Iran. Now it seems there’s quite a bit of confusion as to whether the Israelis or the Americans pursued a postponement. Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic takes it a step further, quoting Pentagon sources that claim Ehud Barak, Israel’s Defense Minister, wanted to cancel the exercise all together.
“Minister Barak called Secretary Panetta and asked if we could take the exercise off the calendar. The Israelis were concerned that they did not have the resources in place to carry it out effectively”, a defense official told Goldberg.
According to one Israeli government insider who spoke with the Algemeiner, this is a particularly complicated situation for both country’s leaders.
“If Netanyahu postpones a vital anti-missile drill and this leaks, he looks like the one who endangered Israeli security to make a point. He can’t win. On the other hand, Obama can’t very well postpone the drill to “punish” Israel for being non-cooperative on Iran – this will leak, too, and Republicans will pounce.”
Reports also circulated that Israeli budget constraints linked to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s promise to slash defense spending, also may have let to the postponement.
U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff head, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, is expected to arrive in Israel on Thursday, while the missile defense drill is now scheduled to take place in the second half of this year.