Monday, October 12, 2009

Israel says joint US drill postponed to next week


An Israeli-U.S. test of strategic missile defences that had been expected to begin on Monday has been postponed to next week, an Israeli defence official said.

The exercise, dubbed Juniper Cobra, has taken place every two years since 2001 but now underscores efforts by the Americans to reassure Israel as they and other world powers pursue negotiations to curb Iran's nuclear programme.

U.S. forces including 17 naval ships and ground personnel operating the Aegis, THAAD and Patriot missile shields will be meshed with Israel's Arrow II interceptor for the drill, which is scheduled to start on Oct. 20, the Israeli official said.

Last week, the official gave Oct. 12-16 as the dates for the joint manoeuvres, which he said would be the biggest ever and overseen by Admiral Mark Fitzgerald, chief of the U.S. Navy's Sixth Fleet, as well as by the head of Israel's air defence arm.

The U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv had no immediate word on scheduling. In a statement issued last week, it said Juniper Cobra "is not related to or in response to any world events".

Iran denies seeking the bomb, but the lack of transparency around its designs and Tehran's virulent rhetoric against the Jewish state have stirred war fears.

Israel, which is assumed to have the Middle East's only atomic arsenal, has hinted at the possibility of attacking Iran if it deems diplomacy a dead end.

But some analysts believe that Israel's military limitations, and U.S. resistance to the idea of pre-emptive strikes, may force it into a more defensive posture with the help of its top ally. (Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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