First Published: 2012-10-18

 

Knocking at Iran’s door: US Israeli forces to stage drill

 

US, Israel will stage three-week air defense drills later this month in show of unity aimed at Iran.

 

Middle East Online

By Mathieu Rabechault - WASHINGTON

Sending a strong signal to Iran

The United States and Israel are set to launch a major military exercise in a show of unity aimed at Iran, despite friction between American and Israeli leaders over how to counter Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

The air defense drills, dubbed "Austere Challenge 2012," will unfold later this month and last about three weeks, with 3,500 US troops and 1,000 Israeli forces taking part, officers said Wednesday.

"This is the largest exercise in the history of the longstanding military relationship between the US and Israel," said Lieutenant General Craig Franklin, 3rd Air Force Commander, who is overseeing the drill along with his Israeli counterpart, Brigadier General Nitzan Nuriel.

"This exercise will improve the cooperative missile defense of Israel and will promote regional stability and help ensure a military edge," Franklin told reporters in a teleconference.

But the drill is about more than missile defenses.

The elaborate exercise takes place at a politically-charged moment, amid speculation about a possible Israeli pre-emptive attack on Iran, a hotly-contested US presidential election weeks away and parliamentary polls expected in Israel within a few months.

The drill's "scenario is to deal with threats from all fronts," Nuriel, the Israeli commander, told the same phone conference.

"Anybody can get any type of message he wants from this exercise. The fact we are practicing together and working together is a strong message by itself."

Although Israel faces rocket attacks out of Gaza and missile threats from Syria and Hezbollah militants in Lebanon, the main worry for the Jewish state is Iran's growing arsenal of ballistic missiles.

In a report this year to Congress, the Pentagon warned that Iran's missiles could hit Israel and Eastern European countries, including an extended-range version of the Shahab-3 and a medium-range ballistic missile with a range of 2,000 kilometers.

The missile threat, combined with the crisis over Iran's disputed nuclear program, prompted Israeli authorities in August to test a SMS public alert system designed to warn the population of an imminent attack.

In the works for two years, the joint exercise originally was scheduled for April but was postponed at Israel's request, without an official explanation.

The drill highlights US-Israeli cooperation just as President Barack Obama seeks to deflect criticism from his Republican rival Mitt Romney, who has accused him of neglecting America's ally and rebuffing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Obama and Netanyahu disagree over the urgency of the perceived threat posed by Iran, with the US president favoring more time for diplomacy and international sanctions to rein in Tehran's uranium enrichment work.

Netanyahu has publicly aired his differences with the Obama administration over the Iran issue, scolding Washington for failing to set its own "red lines" that would trigger military action against Tehran.

The West believes Iran is secretly pursuing plans to develop a nuclear weapons capability, but Tehran insists its program is designed purely for peaceful purposes to generate electricity.

 

OPEC agrees deal to cut oil output

US Congress overrides Obama's veto of Saudi 9/11 bill

UN Libya envoy warns against ‘political impasse’

Amnesty accuses Sudan of using chemical arms against Darfur civilians

Saudi petition seeks 'full' rights for women

Bahrain says Saudi 9/11 bill will harm US

Kidnapped German woman, baby freed in Syria

Turkey stops Kurdish TV broadcasts

A year of bombing in Syria triggers limited interest in Russia

Obama defends refusal to use military force to end Syria civil war

Palestinians react to death of Peres

Poverty takes toll in rebel-held Yemen fishing village

Kerry threatens to end negotiations with Russia on Syria

Kuwaiti court scraps petrol price hike

Iraq requests more US troops to take on IS in Mosul

Airstrikes hit hospitals in rebel-held Aleppo

Iran nuclear chief says not worried about Trump

Iranian, Italian ships hold manoeuvres in Strait of Hormuz

Gunmen kill three Egypt policemen, civilian in Sinai

Turkey says 32,000 coup suspects awaiting trial

Paris to host international meeting on Libya

Etihad plane in emergency landing in Abu Dhabi

Struggling Saudi Oger lays off 1,300 staff

Israel ex-PM to serve 27 months for graft

Syrian kids return to school in Manbij

World Bank releases $300 million for Syrian refugees in Jordan

Iranian FM in Ankara for Syria talks

Syrian army retakes rebel-held Aleppo district

Israeli ex-president Peres dies

Oil prices post marginal gains

Russia tries to strongarm US with Aleppo assault

Jordan vows crackdown on online incitement

Assad, Russia press intense Aleppo assault

Iran's Ahmadinejad says will not run for president

Boris Johnson dismisses Erdogan goat poem as 'trivia'

Turkey dismisses 87 spy agency staff over failed coup

Egypt recovers sunken boat, more bodies

Israel's Peres 'fighting for his life'

Morocco finally adopts Amazigh as official language

Bombings kill at least seventeen in Baghdad

Netanyahu chooses diplomacy in US election

Iran sets conditions for joining terror finance taskforce

Who is the destroyer of Timbuktu shrines?

Israel to charge Lieberman party officials in graft probe

Egypt detains owner of capsized migrant vessel