WASHINGTON – The postponement of a major US-Israel drill planned for the coming weeks was initiated by Jerusalem, according to US media reports.
Israel reportedly asked to put off the exercise because of defense budget cuts, Jewish news agency JTA reported Tuesday. Meanwhile, Yahoo News, quoting US defense officials, said the postponement request came directly from Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
"Minister Barak called Secretary Panetta and asked if we could take the exercise off the calendar. The Israelis were concerned that they did not have the resources in place to carry it out effectively," a US official was quoted as saying by Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic.
The postponed drill was slated to be held within weeks, yet now it appears it will not be held before the second half of the year, at the earliest.
According to Yahoo, American sources expressed concerns that Israel's request to put off the aerial defense exercise was a warning that Jerusalem is keeping all options open, including a possible strike on Iran's nuclear facilities in the spring.
Pentagon spokesman, John Kirby, said the exercise was canceled for routine reasons of wanting “optimum participation” by both sides, JTA reported.
“It is not at all uncommon for routine exercises to be postponed,” Kirby said. “There were a variety of factors at play in this case, but in general, leaders from both sides believe that optimum participation by all units is best achieved later in the year. We remain dedicated to this exercise and naturally want it to be as robust and as productive as it can be.”
According to earlier reports, Israeli officials said the Americans asked to delay the drill so as not to heighten tensions with Iran over its nuclear program.