October 21, 2012
The U.S. and Israeli militaries on Sunday began their largest-ever joint exercise to practice integrating defense systems in case of massive missile attacks on the Jewish state, bolstering efforts to deter possible strikes by Iran and its allies.
Dubbed “Austere Challenge 12,” the drill highlights the allies’ close military ties despite months of public bickering between the White House and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over how to block Tehran’s nuclear program, Israeli analysts said.
“It offsets the image of a rift between the U.S. and Israel,” said Gerald Steinberg, a political-science professor at Bar Ilan University. “It shows that while there are differences of opinion, there’s still significant defense cooperation.”
The U.S.-Israel friction peaked several weeks ago when Mr. Netanyahu and top administration officials engaged in a series of pointed exchanges over whether or not to establish a “red line” that would trigger military action.
That spat has spilled into the U.S. presidential campaign, with Republican candidate Mitt Romney seizing on the dispute to attack the Obama administration’s foreign policy as aimed at distancing Israel from the U.S. The White House rejects that claim, and has countered that President Barack Obama has raised security cooperation with Israel to unprecedented levels. Those arguments are likely to be revisited in Monday’s debate over foreign policy.
U.S. and Israeli military officials have tried to play down political and geopolitical interpretations of the timing of the exercise. When the exercise was delayed this year at Israel’s request, it stoked speculation that the move was intended to reduce tensions spurred by speculation about an Israeli attack.