Israel and the United States have postponed a massive joint defense exercise, which was expected to be carried out in the coming weeks, in order to avoid an escalation with Iran, Channel 2 reported on Sunday.According to an Israeli defense official, Washington wants to avoid causing further tensions in the region, especially in light of the sensitive situation that has been generated after various reports in the international media that the U.S. and Israel are preparing to strike Iran's nuclear facilitiesNews of it came amid heightened tensions between U.S. allies and Iran, after Tehran threatened it could close the Strait of Hormuz, a crucial oil supply route.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, is scheduled to arrive in Israel on Thursday for talks with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, and other senior defense and intelligence officials.One senior officer told the Wall Street Journal that the United States' concerns regarding a possible Israeli attack on Iran were increasing.According to the Wall Street Journal, both U.S. President Barack Obama and Panetta have conveyed messages through quiet channels to senior Israeli officials regarding the serious implications of an Israeli attack on Iran. They also reportedly told Israel it should allow more time for sanctions on Iran to take effect.Dempsey's visit to Israel also comes against the backdrop of increased tension between Iran and the West over Tehran's threats to close the Straits of Hormuz, which would compromise oil shipments to the West, and threats to avenge the recent assassination of an Iraqi nuclear scientist on Wednesday. The regime is accusing Israel, the United States and Britain of the assassination.
Netanyahu's remarks notwithstanding, a senior Israeli official told Haaretz yesterday that there was disappointment in Jerusalem over the fact that harsher sanctions have not been imposed on Iran.
"Without sanctions on Iran's central bank and on its oil exports, the regime will not back down and will not stop its nuclear program," the official said.
U.S. defense leaders are increasingly concerned that Israel is preparing to take military action against Iran, over U.S. objections, and have stepped up contingency planning to safeguard U.S. facilities in the region in case of a conflict.
President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other top officials have delivered a string of private messages to Israeli leaders warning about the dire consequences of a strike. The U.S. wants Israel to give more time for the effects of sanctions and other measures intended to force Iran to abandon its perceived efforts to build nuclear weapons.
Mr. Panetta and other top officials have privately sought assurances from Israeli leaders in recent weeks that they won't take military action against Iran. But the Israeli response has been noncommittal, U.S. officials said.
U.S. officials briefed on the military's planning said concern has mounted over the past two years that Israel may strike Iran. But rising tensions with Iran and recent changes at Iranian nuclear sites have ratcheted up the level of U.S. alarm.
"Our concern is heightened," a senior U.S. military official said of the probability of an Israeli strike over U.S. objections.
Debka weighs in:
US-Israeli discord over action against Iran went into overdrive Sunday, Jan. 15 when the White House called off Austere Challenge 12, the biggest joint war game the US and Israel have every staged, ready to go in spring, in reprisal for a comment by Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon in an early morning radio interview. He said the United States was hesitant over sanctions against Iran's central bank and oil for fear of a spike in oil prices.
The row between Washington and Jerusalem is now in the open, undoubtedly causing celebration in Tehran.
The exercise was officially postponed from spring 2012 to the last quarter of the year over "budgetary constraints" – an obvous diplomatic locution for cancellation.
It was issued urgently at an unusually early hour Washington time, say DEBKAfile's sources, to underscore the Obama administration's total disassociation from any preparations to strike Iran and to stress its position that if an attack took place, Israel alone would be accountable.
Israel's Deputy Prime minister further inflamed one of the most acute disagreements in the history of US-Israeli relations over the Obama administration's objections to an Israel military action against Iran's nuclear sites in any shape or form. Yaalon ventured into tricky terrain when he pointed out that US Congress had shown resolve by enacting legislation for sanctions with real bite. But the White House "hesitated." He went on to say: "A military operation is the last resort, but Israel must be ready to defend itself."
The friction was already fueled last week by the deep resentment aroused in Israel by Washington's harsh condemnation of the assassination last Wednesday, Jan. 11, of the nuclear scientist Prof. Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan, and absolute denial of any US involvement.
Israeli leaders also suspect that the Obama administration may be foot-dragging deliberately in the hope of encouraging Iran to enter into negotiations and so avoid a military showdown. They point out that all previous rounds of talks were exploited for Iran's forward leaps in their nuclear weapon drive, free of international hassle.