WASHINGTON (JTA) — The United States and Israel delayed their largest ever anti-missile exercise for "optimum participation," but it will still take place this year.
"Austere Challenge 12" will be conducted in the second half of this year after being scheduled to take place in late spring, the Pentagon spokesman, Capt. John Kirby, said in a statement. The change comes, he said, following close consultation between the U.S. European Command, or EUCOM, and the Israel Defense Forces.
"It is not at all uncommon for routine exercises to be postponed," Kirby said. "There were a variety of factors at play in this case but in general, leaders from both sides believe that optimum participation by all units is best achieved later in the year."
Israeli officials have said that Israel initiated the delay for budget reasons. A U.S. official confirmed that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak had initiated the delay; Barak’s role was first reported by Laura Rozen on Yahoo News.
Officials on both sides would not deny that recent tensions with Iran may have influenced the decision but would not comment further.
Kirby underscored the U.S. commitment to carrying out the exercise.
"We remain dedicated to this exercise and naturally want it to be as robust and as productive as it can be," he said. "Further details will be released in due course."