JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli and U.S. troops began their largest-ever joint aerial defense exercise this week.
Austere Challenge 12, which began Sunday, is part of a training exercise designed to increase military cooperation between the United States and Israel. Its planning began more than two years ago and is not a response to specific events in the Middle East, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement. But it does take place amid growing concerns over Iran’s nuclear program.
“The joint exercise comes when Iran is under greater pressure than ever before to make concessions to its nuclear program,” said Gerald Steinberg, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University, according to the Jerusalem Post. “This drill sends a message that the pressure will continue, and that despite strategic disagreements between Israel and the U.S., the alliance remains strong, particularly with respect to any Iranian effort to retaliate.”
Last month, Time magazine reported that the exercise had been downsized and indicated that part of the reason was American distrust of Israel.
U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin said Austere Challenge 2012 is the largest U.S.-Israel military exercise to date, according to the American Forces Press Service.
The exercise is scheduled to last three weeks and involve more than 3,500 American service personnel and 1,000 Israeli soldiers. Part of the exercise reportedly will involve live fire.
Of the exercise’s $38 million price tag, the United States will pay $30 million and Israel $8 million.