The Pentagon has decided to reduce the number of US troops taking part in a joint military exercise with Israel planned for this month, Time magazine reported on Friday.
The number of the troops expected to take part in the manoeuvres, which were postponed seven months ago, has been reduced by 60 per cent. Instead of around 5,000 troops originally assigned to “Austere Challenge 12”, Washington will send just 1,500 soldiers and perhaps as few as 1,200, the magazine claimed.
Troops aren’t the only US participation being reduced; instead of two Aegis Ballistic Missile Defence warships being dispatched to Israeli waters, the plan is now to send just one, and even that is not definite.
US officials attributed the severe downgrading to financial reasons. However, it confirmed that the move “coincided with growing tensions between the Obama and Netanyahu administrations over Israel’s persistent threats to launch an airstrike on Iran.”
Meanwhile, Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported that a senior member of the Israeli political-security cabinet said of the Pentagon’s decision, “This is the Obama administration’s response to the dinner party Netanyahu held in (Mitt) Romney’s honour.”
Nevertheless, the minister said the despite this exercise, relations between Israel and the US “have soured and they have never been better”. Yedioth Ahronoth pointed out that the minister was speaking “cynically”.
Other Israeli officials, angry at the “slashed” US participation in the exercise, said that it “is not boosting deterrence and is not making the Iranians sweat”. They insist that Washington is trying to send a message that Israel will not drag it into war before the US elections. Such a possibility prompted US General Martin Dempsey to say recently that America “will not be complicit if Israel attacks Iran unilaterally”.
Although some are claiming that Israel has no idea why the Americans decided to reduce the number of troops it will send to the drill, others have rejected the notion that the Pentagon’s decision was meant as a message to Israel.
Haaretz analyst Amos Harel said: “Time Magazine implies that the reason for the downgrading of the drill is related to differences concerning the Israeli willingness to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities in the near future. But, in practice, it is highly unlikely that these differences are the true reason.”