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Major US-Israel Military Exercises Delayed - New York Times

Written By Ivan Kolev on Tuesday, January 17, 2012 | 4:27 AM

The move appears intended to avoid further escalating tensions with Iran, which is under intense international diplomatic and economic pressure to curb its nuclear program out of fears it is seeking to make a nuclear bomb. Iran itself recently held 10 days of naval exercises near the Strait of Hormuz, and Israel has kept open the possibility of a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

At the same time, the United States is leading an effort to increase sanctions on Iran, and an Iranian nuclear scientist was assassinated in Tehran, the fourth such attack reported in two years. Iran blames the United States and Israel for the killings.

Speaking Monday on Israel Radio, Mr. Lieberman cited “diplomatic and regional reasons, the tensions and instability” as factors in delaying the exercise. The Israeli military said in a statement that the joint exercise, Austere Challenge 12, would take place during the second half of 2012.

The exercises, involving thousands of American and Israeli soldiers, were designed to test various Israeli and American air defense systems against missiles and rockets from a range that would include Iran, The Associated Press reported.

The American defense secretary, Leon E. Panetta, said last month that the drill exemplified unprecedented levels of defense cooperation between the two countries, and was meant to back up Washington’s “unshakable” commitment to Israel’s security, The A.P. said.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said that Israel and the United States took the decision to delay the exercise jointly “because it was not the right time.” He did not elaborate.

Israeli officials have saluted the effectiveness of existing sanctions against Iran, while also urging more, specifically on Iran’s Central Bank and its petro-chemical sector.

In an interview published Saturday in The Weekend Australian, Mr. Netanyahu said he was seeing Iran “wobble” for the first time. “If these sanctions are coupled with a clear statement by the international community, led by the U.S., to act militarily to stop Iran if sanctions fail,” he said, “Iran may consider not going through the pain.”

On Sunday, Moshe Yaalon, a vice prime minister and minister of strategic affairs, described the Obama administration’s failure to add more sanctions as “a disappointment so far.”

“The administration is hesitating because of fears of rising oil prices this year, apparently out of election year considerations,” he told Israel Radio.

On Monday, Mr. Netanyahu told a closed meeting of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that sanctions on Iran had to be beefed up and implemented expeditiously and aggressively, according to a participant in the meeting.

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