Israel, U.S. postpone joint anti-missile exercise


WASHINGTON (JTA) — The United States and Israel have delayed a major joint anti-missile exercise against a backdrop of heightened tensions with Iran. 

Sources in both countries said that the exercise, the largest of its kind, would be delayed from its planned spring date until the summer at the earliest.

Reasons for the postponement principally had to do with budget cuts in Israel, an Israeli official said.

However, the cancellation also comes against a background of increasing tensions with Iran, where some officials in the regime have suggested that Iran could shut down the Strait of Hormuz, choking off much of the West’s oil supply, if western nations press ahead with increased sanctions.

Israel Radio reported that the decision came because of "sensitive timing," without elaborating. It said that U.S. and Israeli officials had decided to postpone the exercise last month.

There have also been reports of increased tensions between the administrations of President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over Israel’s alleged refusal to share with the United States whether or not it plans to strike Iran.

"President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other top officials have delivered a string of private messages to Israeli leaders warning about the dire consequences of a strike," the Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend.

Obama and Netanyahu spoke on Jan. 12. According to a White House statement, they discussed, among other issues, "recent Iran-related developments, including the international community’s efforts to hold Iran accountable for its failures to meet its international obligations."

Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, is due to arrive in Israel Thursday.

His visit originally was touted as part of the planning of the joint anti-missile exercise, but reports now say he will press Israel not to strike Iran.

Western nations believe Iran is advancing a nuclear weapons program. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful civilian purposes.

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