How Sending Fewer U.S. Troops to Israeli Joint Exercise Further Strains Relations

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ABIR SULTAN / EPA

Israeli soldiers are seen operating a machine gun during a military exercise in the Golan Heights, Israel, on Aug. 21, 2012

TIME’s report on the substantial scaling back of U.S. participation in next month’s joint military exercise with Israel created some waves. The story, posted on Friday, quoted military sources in both countries describing a much reduced American presence — from 5,000 troops to perhaps 1,500 — in Austere Challenge 12, which Israel was to host in May and then asked to postpone until October. The delay came at the crest of the first wave of speculation (there has been at least one more since) that Israel was on the verge of launching an air strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The joint exercise is significant not only because it aims to blend Israeli and American military capabilities, but because the specific capability being blended this year is antimissile systems. Israel has excellent missile shields of its own, but not enough of them to protect most of its population, so the arrival of U.S. Patriot batteries and other missile defense might be seen as a timely supplement, one that some might fear helps set the stage for an Israeli attack. Or simply gives the appearance of doing so, which in the game of brinkmanship and concessions matters almost as much.

What many Israelis saw in the news, however, was one more worrying example of the strain Iran is causing between the Obama and Netanyahu governments. “Severe Crisis of Trust Between Israel and White House” was the headline on the front page of Maariv. The daily Yedioth Ahronoth said Israeli defense officials “believed that figures who wanted to undermine security relations between the two countries were behind the report.”

(PHOTOS: Israel Drills for a Missile Strike)

In fact, the two militaries spoke in one voice about the report, denying not the reduction in U.S. forces but the meaning being read into it, especially by a senior Israeli officer quoted as saying: “Basically what the Americans are saying is, ‘We don’t trust you.’”

“The claims are baseless,” a Ministry of Defense official tells TIME. “The fact is the numbers of soldiers are an internal American issue, and they have their own considerations. The security dialogue and the defense relationship is as strong and secure and as intimate as ever. All changes that are made to the exercise were changes in complete coordination with all parties taking part in the exercise.”

Pentagon spokesman Lieut. Colonel Todd Breasseale concurred in an e-mail:

            When the exercise was moved, the U.S. notified Israel that due to concurrent operations, the U.S. would provide a smaller number of personnel and equipment than originally planned … and again, Israel reiterated its request to postpone until late fall.

        Austere Challenge 12 remains the largest-ever ballistic-missile-defense exercise between our nations and a significant increase from the previous event in 2009. The exercise has not changed in scope and will include the same types of systems as planned. All deployed systems will be fully operational with associated operators.

          As Israel Minister of Defense Ehud Barak has repeatedly said, the U.S.-Israel defense relationship is stronger than it has ever been. The U.S. agrees. Austere Challenge is a tangible sign of our mutual trust and our shared commitment to the defense of our nations.

(MORE: Is Israel Angling for a Commitment from Obama on Iran?)

The details of the joint exercise will become clear next month, when it finally unfolds. Officials from both militaries told TIME that only one Aegis antimissile ship would be deployed, down from two, and that the Patriot batteries will be operated by “skeleton” crews, with the exception of a small number participating in a firing-range exercise. The last joint exercise involved 1,000 U.S. troops, so 1,500 is indeed an increase — though certainly much less than the 5,000 originally proposed.

What’s clear at the moment is that there’s no great quarrel between the Israeli and American militaries. They routinely operate “in lockstep” as another Pentagon spokesperson put it, with a level of mutual cooperation that was only enhanced by the United States–Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act of 2012. The bill was signed at the end of July (not long after the Americans informed their Israeli counterparts that they were scaling back the joint exercise) and promises specific hardware, like midair refueling tankers, not previously forthcoming in the $3 billion annual military aid package from Washington. There’s every reason for the militaries to get along famously these days.

The friction in the alliance is between higher officials, what Israelis call “the political echelon.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scolded the world beyond Israel’s borders on Sunday that it needed to serve Iran a deadline. And the Hebrew press on Monday was rife with reports that the Obama Administration was quarreling openly with Netanyahu over the right way to deal with Tehran. Exhibit A was Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey’s remarks in London on Thursday, warning that an attack by Israel would likely fail to destroy the Iranian program but effectively destroy the international movement painstakingly assembled against it.

As it happened, Dempsey’s remark also explained the political logic of reducing the number of U.S. troops traveling to Israel on the eve of a presidential election: “I don’t want to be complicit if they choose to do it,” Dempsey said.

MORE: Why Do Israeli Media Keep Predicting War with Iran?

MORE: Exclusive: U.S. Scales Back Military Exercise with Israel, Affecting Potential Iran Strike

62 comments
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arlynnoel
arlynnoel

I used to have bird dogs. I was a hunter. My favorites were Vizslas. Their tails, per breed standard, were docked 1/3. Before them I had German Short-haired Pointers. They had 2/3 removed from that rear-end appendage. I don't hunt anymore, but I'm considering a Rottweiler. Does anyone know if they're born with tails? They don't appear to have much of anything back there.

It's a pleasure thinking that the dog wagging Middle-Eastern dog might finally be getting a docking of her own!

Fabio Juliano
Fabio Juliano

Fact A: Ahmadinejad and his turban-wearing bosses have repeatedly vowed to destroy Israel.

Fact B: Iran is developing a nuclear program.

Conclusion A: If allowed to do so, Iran will use its nuclear weapons to destroy Israel.

Conclusion B: Same as any other nation, Israel should not allow itself to be destroyed and its people exterminated in a nuclear holocaust. If the U.S. does not wish to help, just have people like Martin Dempsey, the careerist sycophant who likes to dress up as a Marine, keep their mouths shut.

Bill Pearlman
Bill Pearlman

Interesting how any article that touches on Israel brings out the Jew baiters from under their rocks.

Reuben_NYC
Reuben_NYC

And how it brings out the Megaphone users from out of their sewers is even more amazing!

drorbenami
drorbenami

 i have noticed that it is more with karl vick's articles....the comments for tony baloney are anti israel, but less vicious....

Drew Hadz
Drew Hadz

This a shame... the US should be supporting Israel further. Afterall how much of the middle east is still rotting itself away becoming geographic sewers nobody in their right minds would want to live unless they have been brainwashed by Islam? These nations especially Iran would only improve if they get the crapped bombed out of them by the jews. 

Reuben_NYC
Reuben_NYC

You should donate your brain to Israeli science. Maybe they can discover the origins of stupidity.

Redoubt South
Redoubt South

This is Obama's version of 'loyalty' to our old allies as well as one to our new one; Iran, as well. 

Plumbline
Plumbline

If it takes so long for congress to make decisions regarding their own country, what makes Israel think they can rely on the U.S. to make decisions regarding Israels security. Israel may stand alone, but the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob neither sleeps nor slumbers..........

Drew Hadz
Drew Hadz

He certainly seems to have taken a pretty long nap from the miracle business since the made up looniness of the New Testament.

Enrique Garcia Solis
Enrique Garcia Solis

The US should disassociate itself completely from Israel, and should recognize the treason of "American" (?) Jews who have their primary loyalty to Israel.  You can't faithfully serve two masters at the same time.   

drorbenami
drorbenami

 no enrique.....the more i read the comments for karl's articles the more i am convinced the time has come for american jews to disassociate themselves from the usa and come to live in israel......

economic troubles are just around the corner and soon american will turn against american....in that environment the first americans the mobs will attack will be the jewish americans....

Conium Maculatum
Conium Maculatum

Stop dragging America into your conflicts.  I don't blame the Persians for wanting nuclear weapons.  Deterrence... then  détente.

drorbenami
drorbenami

 Brains aren't your strong point, are they ? Israel dragged america into korea? Israel dragged america into viet nam? israel dragger america into yugo slavia? Israel dragged america into afganistan? israel dragged america into iraq?

the_sons_of_lot
the_sons_of_lot

Our defense budget has been cut... welcome to the new realities thanks to our 9% approval rating, do nothing Congress.

 Obama proposed a $4 Trillion debt reduction plan that would have kept Samp;P from downgrading us, eliminated the need of the Super Committe, which was ultimately sabotaged by the Republicans resulting in automatic cuts to defense spending.

Jeffrey Geez Glavick
Jeffrey Geez Glavick

So the USA not sending enough troops to Israel strains realtions? how about Israel not sending any troops to Iraq or Afghanistan, after all Bush said your either with us or against us, spare me the Arab excuse. Bush said it correctly.

Reuben_NYC
Reuben_NYC

I agree with you but the truth is as soon as Saddam Hussein was cleared out the Israelis swooped into Mosul and began dealing with the Kurds. BBC did an undercover expose and showed Mossad training Kurds for lots of dollars.  

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/pro... 

Pellam
Pellam

I would salute Israel for supporting Kurdish independence. Are you for the continued occupation of Kurdistan?

akpat
akpat

Since when has Israel been an allie.  In fact Israel attacked one of our ships killing seamen and we have at least one Israeli spy in jail for espionage. In the meantime the loony right religious nut in Israel continually want to go to war and for us to shed our blood for them.

In the meantime we continue to send billions a year to Israel which could well be spent here, along with all the other slush money we send to other banana republics which are our 'friends'.

Real friends dont need to be paid.

Start Loving
Start Loving

What strains relations with the right wingers in Israel is that we in the US have a President and Congress that 1 out of 10,000 times does not jump exactly as high and exactly as far as the right wingers in Israel tell them to.  King George granted infinitely more leeway to the American Colony than our faux jewish right wing masters grant to their US colony of 2012.  Unless the center and left in Israel and the US wake up and stand up, this insane, despotic, tyrannical bullying by the right wing will precipitate a global war as the last shreds of respect and good will held for the US disintegrate under this US subservience, and joint tyranny we visit on Palestine and the rest of the Middle East all in the name of the right wing's colonial land-theft lust.  We adults deserve whatever comes.  But the children?  

D Armstrong
D Armstrong

Naturally US is sending fewer troops. Obama despises Israel along with the Brits and other long time allies for that matter, hell, he hates the USA if you really want to get down to it. He would rather weaken us and assist those that hate us.

Reuben_NYC
Reuben_NYC

That you would lie for the sake of Israel is disgusting

Fabio Juliano
Fabio Juliano

Are you a Jew for Hitler? Because a Jew for Ahmadinejad isn't very different.

Jseeley
Jseeley

Really D Armstink?  you actually believe that your President hates the USA?  That is so sad that you are so easily led by your spoon fed fears that facts and reality don't have any meaning in your life.  Weaken us?  how so? and assist those that hate us?  please do enlighten us with how you think this has been done

the_sons_of_lot
the_sons_of_lot

 Why do the Evangelicals want to put an anti-christ into the white house?

The mormons claim to be Jews... every one is a Jew in happy mormon theology, Mormons descended from Ephraim, Native Americans from Manasseh, everybody except maybe black people.

I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews and are not, but are the Synagogue of Satan. - Revelations 2:9

akpat
akpat

 Well O may despise the Brits but lets face it GWB outright lied to them how does that make them feel.

Conium Maculatum
Conium Maculatum

Google: USS Liberty

drorbenami
drorbenami

 google: me lai

Conium Maculatum
Conium Maculatum

We have one standard for American offenders and yet another for Israel's because "God's chosen ones" can do no wrong.

zzz05
zzz05

Having seen an actual Cat D-10, there is no way the driver can see anything he's about to run over, nor can anybody going to be run over see the driver's face and realize what he's going to do.  http://baumaschinen-modelle.ne...

He assumed Corrie would move. She assumed he would stop. They were both wrong. The results were asymmetrical, however, given the situation. 

drorbenami
drorbenami

 oh yes, a tractor driver who claims he hit a girl he didn't see should be classified the same as soldiers who admit they raped and murdered civilians....you are really sick....

Conium Maculatum
Conium Maculatum

Google: Rachel Corrie

Pellam
Pellam

I did. It says, "idiot who bends down in front of moving tractor."

drorbenami
drorbenami

google:  lt calley and captain medina.....

Conium Maculatum
Conium Maculatum

A war crimes tribunal would be a better venue for the Corrie death (and many many others).

drorbenami
drorbenami

 really ??? how about a tribunal for the american soldiers who raped those 70,000 american servicewomen ???

drorbenami
drorbenami

hey karl,

in follow up to your story about the american activist crushed by a tractor, jimmy carter has declared that the israeli courts have sided with the military and the girl did not receive justice.

this is interesting because Lt. Calley was convicted of participation in massacre of 350 plus  Vietnamese civilians, the majority of whom were women and children. many of the women were raped. Nevertheless, according to david frum in his book: "how we got here" : ..... outraged by Calley's sentence; Georgia's governor Jimmy Carter instituted "American Fighting Man's Day" and asked Georgians to drive for a week with their lights on.... .

So, my question is: Since Calley was the only man convicted and he served less than 5 years in jail: Did those 350 plus Vietnamese receive justice? How can jimmy carter demand justice for one american girl, yet ignore all those Vietnamese???

because the driver insists he did not see the girl, whereas witnesses testified that they saw Calley fire his grenade launcher into a crowd of civilians killing most of them.....

Reuben_NYC
Reuben_NYC

Typical hasbarist. Oh look over there dont look at us! I hope you get demoted back down to hasbarist first class by your boss Avigdor Lieberman. You are sloppy.

zzz05
zzz05

Yeah, because all those Jews are united in their mind control of good honest Christians. If it weren't for Avigdor Lieberman, the US would have free trade with Cuba. 

drorbenami
drorbenami

 no, it's okay, you can look at us, but first take the log out of your eye, before complaining about out speck....

by the way, have you read karl's article about the 200,000 dead children in iraq ???

zzz05
zzz05

Israel-bashing by those who have no prior attachment, whether they be Israeli, Palestinian, Jew, Arab, Muslim, whatever serves to assuage any residual guilt of the bashers over the Holocaust or antisemitism in general, as well as any guilt over the doings of their own country. 

Is your country founded on the slaughter of 90% of the indigenous population? Then why not ignore it and point a finger at the Israelis, who had the temerity to move to the area they've been claiming for 2000 years, despite the opposition of those who moved there over the past few hundred years (but were happy to sell their property), and whose "genocide" has resulted in a tripling of the population of those indigenes? 

Did your country drop not just one, but two nuclear bombs onto civilian populations? Well then, why not ignore that and attack the morality of the country which is "assumed to have nuclear capabilities" and has never even threatened anybody with them despite being in a pretty constant state of war; in fact, never having threatened anybody with them is to be considered a sign that they are the greatest risk to use them. Does your country have a long and glorious history of throwing its weight around all over the globe whenever it feels it's entitled to something the locals might not agree to, including in the Middle East? Did your country maybe contract with Israel to be the local proxy in a hot war against the Soviets' local proxy so that the major powers could test their military balance without worrying about actually setting off a nuclear exchange? Well, why not ignore that and pretend that your nation has indulged in a nonstop orgy of love and generosity, until those darn Zionists and/or Israel Lobby led them into bad behavior, so unlike their normal practice. 

Smail Buzzby
Smail Buzzby

We don't trust Israel and we should NOT trust Israel.  You trust allies, but Israel is not our ally.  Allies support one another and do not do things to make life difficult for each other...Israel is not our ally.  They use us like a parasite or a pimp.  

If Israel wants a war with Iran they had better be prepared to fight a war with Iran - on their own.  Iran with a nuclear missile poses no threat whatsoever to the United States.  The billions of dollars in support and weapons that we have given Israel annually every year has ruined our credibility in the world.  The eternal UN security council veto that we have abused to defend the many horrible things that Israel has done has ruined our credibility in the world.  It is about time Israel learn how to exist peacefully - and without its sugar daddy paying to keep it out of trouble.  

We need to throw the Israeli lobbies (and all other foreign interest lobbies - and then the rest of the lobbies) out of our country and start worrying about what is good for us and our people for a change.  We need to stop giving continual support to any nation, especially one as wealthy and belligerent as Israel has become.  And we need to make it clear that we do not think that supporting an ally is the same thing as starting a war.  Or not - maybe we let Israel start a war and then we just refuse to participate?

zzz05
zzz05

Right; so, when Bush the Elder fights Iraq to save Kuwait, the Israelis sit there while Iraqi missiles land on them and don't retaliate, in order to keep the Arab countries from ditching Team Bush; yeah, those Israelis are just using us like a parasite.

Mike259
Mike259

Israel aside, fact is a sworn enemy of the US is about to go nuclear. Sanctions do not work. They did not work in Cuba for the past 50 + years and haven't worked in N Korea who has shown the entire world that a regime will starve its people rather than give in to economic pressure.

For our sake, I hope whatever decision we make is the right one for our country's security.

byrontx
byrontx

Support of Zionism should not be the cornerstone of foreign policy of the world's leading democracy.

Rolf Steiner
Rolf Steiner

We should send ZERO troops over there.  This modern day apartheid country needs and deserves  no help from us. 

Sandeep Singh
Sandeep Singh

With friends like Netanyahu's Israel, who needs enemies? It is the recipient of the largest American foreign aid package despite being a developed country and yet it (i) steals American military and industrial secrets (cited in the CIA report as being the second largest intelligence threat to the U.S.) (ii) seeks to control American foreign policy through organizations like AIPAC. (iii) gives the U.S. a "bad name" internationally by being in violation of more U.N. resolutions and international law than Iran and North Korean combined (no exaggeration there). 

Perhaps it's time for moderate Israelis to take back their country from Netanyahu's right wing, ultra-conservative nut jobs. Indeed Israel's future would be a lot brighter if its leaders actually reflected the will of the mainstream israeli citizenry.