Israel, US postpone missile-defense drill to avoid provoking Iran
The missile-defense drill had been trumpeted as showing US commitment to Israel's security. Some Israeli officials criticize President Obama for excessive caution in an election year.
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The decision was said to be a joint one, but there appears to be friction between the two allies on the best overall strategy on curtailing the Islamic Republic's nuclear program. The Israeli state and many US politicians say they believe Iran is working on a nuclear bomb, though US intelligence estimates say such work is not ongoing.
Israeli officials are publicly leaning on President Obama to get tougher with Tehran, with some suggesting that election-year considerations are making him too cautious. The US, meanwhile, is struggling to dissuade Israel from taking unilateral action against Iran without coming across as being unsupportive, and potentially fueling Israeli determination to act preemptively.
The plans to test the US and Israel's air defense systems – for rockets and missiles from as far away as Iran – had been seen as a strong expression of the Obama administration's commitment to Israeli security. Last month, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the drill "exemplified unprecedented levels of defense cooperation between the two countries meant to back up Washington's 'unshakable' commitment to Israel's security."
According to unnamed Israeli defense officials cited by the Associated Press, the drill will now be rescheduled for the second half of 2012, but at least one other report suggested it had been canceled altogether.
The announcement that the drill would not happen as scheduled came the day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's deputy, Moshe Yaalon, told Israeli Radio that President Obama's "election-year considerations" were preventing his administration from taking a tough stance on Iran, contrasting US decisions with Europe's rapid moves, Reuters reports.
Moshe Ya’alon, Israel's vice prime minister, contrasted the administration's posture to that of France and Britain, which he said "are taking a very firm stand and understand sanctions must be imposed immediately".
"In the United States, the Senate passed a resolution, by a majority of 100-to-one, to impose these sanctions, and in the US administration there is hesitation for fear of oil prices rising this year, out of election-year considerations," Ya’alon told Israel Radio. "In that regard, this is certainly a disappointment, for now."
Mr. Netanyahu said in a closed meeting Sunday that current sanctions on Iran have not been effective enough, the Washington Post reports, citing an unnamed Israeli who attended the meeting.