U.S.-Israel joint military exercise downsized, but still sign of ‘mutual trust’


JERUSALEM (JTA) — U.S. military officials acknowledged that an upcoming joint U.S.-Israel military exercise was downsized, but denied it was because of mistrust of Israel.

Time magazine reported last Friday that Austere Challenge 12, the ballistic missiles exercise scheduled for the end of October, was greatly downsized, with Washington cutting by more than two-thirds — to about 1,500 — the number of U.S. troops participating, and reducing the number and quality of missile interception systems to be used.

“Basically what the Americans are saying is, ‘We don’t trust you,’ ” Time quoted an unnamed senior Israeli military official as saying.

The exercise  originally had been scheduled for the spring, but was postponed by Israel due to budgetary considerations. U.S. military officials said the number of troops to be involved in the exercise were reduced in part because of other commitments around the time of the rescheduled exercise, and that Israel was aware that it would happen.

Budget restrictions also are an issue on the U.S. end, according to Time. But the magazine also pointed out that the decision two months ago to scale back the exercise came at the same time as tension began increasing between President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over Israel considering an attack on Iran’s nuclear sites.

"Austere Challenge-12 remains the largest-ever ballistic missile defense exercise between our nations and a significant increase from the previous event in 2009," Air Force Lt.-Col. Jack Miller, a Pentagon spokesman, told Time.

"The exercise has not changed in scope and will include the same types of systems as planned. All deployed systems will be fully operational with associated operators," he said, adding that the exercise "is a tangible sign of our mutual trust."

U.S. and Israeli officials told Reuters that the figures cited in the Time article are inaccurate and that the change in the number of U.S. troops participating is not so great.

The exercise comes days before the U.S. presidential election. 

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