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Israel, US joint military drill set for autumn

Missile defense exercise had been planned for April

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, right, at a welcoming ceremony for his visiting US counterpart Martin Dempsey, at a military base in Tel Aviv on January 20, 2012. (photo credit: Gideon Markowicz/Flash90
IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, right, at a welcoming ceremony for his visiting US counterpart Martin Dempsey, at a military base in Tel Aviv on January 20, 2012. (photo credit: Gideon Markowicz/Flash90

WASHINGTON (AP) — The top U.S. military officer says the U.S. and Israel will hold a major missile defense exercise in October.

The exercise Austere Challenge ’12 was scheduled originally for April but was postponed amid growing talk of Israel preparing to attack Iran over its nuclear program. The odds of an Israeli attack in the near term appear to have lessened.

Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Army Gen. Martin Dempsey told reporters at the Pentagon on Friday that he is unfamiliar with exact details but that the postponed exercise is expected to take place in October.

The exercise is designed to test multiple Israeli and U.S. air defense systems against incoming missiles and rockets from places as far away as Iran.

News of the drill comes amid ongoing violence in Syria, and with Israel and the US closely discussing the means to thwart Iran’s nuclear drive. The commander of the 3rd Air Force, Lt.-Gen.Craig A. Franklin, on a recent visit to Israel, established a planning committee with representatives of the IDF to coordinate the details of the exercise. Some 3,000 US soldiers are to participate, alongside thousands of Israeli troops.

The drill will simulate missiles being fired at Israel from Iran and Syria simultaneously, with potentially tens, if not hundreds, of rockets mid-air at the same time. Israel will test its upgraded Arrow 2 defense system, while the US will deploy the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System and PAC-3 Patriot air defense platforms.

According to Maariv, some military analysts have nicknamed the exercise a “dress rehearsal” for a potential military conflict, noting that it will send a clear message to Iran at a time during which the impact of international sanctions, or lack thereof, will be clearer.

The drill’s announcement comes shortly after talks between world powers and Iran regarding Tehran’s nuclear program broke up without progress in Moscow.

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