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Whatever the impact of this development on the Israeli leadership, on Monday it was Netanyahu himself who continued in his deputy Yaalon’s vein, telling a Knesset committee that
The sanctions employed thus far are ineffective, they have no impact on [Iran’s] nuclear program. We need tough sanctions against [its] central bank and oil industry. These things are not happening yet and that is why it has no effect on the nuclear program.
He also said Iran had been quickly penetrating Iraq since the U.S. withdrew its forces, and that Israel, as a result, had to strengthen its defenses against possible attacks from the air and the ground.
In an atmosphere, then, of implicit and open accusations and counteraccusations, it is tempting to see the cancellation of “Austere Challenge 12” as a U.S. slap at Israel. While an alternative Israeli site claims that’s the case, mainstream Israeli outlets don’t go that far.
One of them, the Jerusalem Post, even hinted that it was a joint decision, reporting that “In recent weeks, [Israeli] Defense Minister Ehud Barak led talks with the Pentagon about the possibility of canceling the drill and holding it at a later date.” More typically, Israel Hayom reported that “the drill was postponed to avoid any moves that could heat up the region amid already high tensions between the U.S. and Iran.” (Officials are also quoted saying both countries’ budgetary constraints were behind the decision, while other officials are quoted denying this.)
In any case, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey is on the way to Israel this week to hold talks with the Israeli chief of staff and other top brass. It comes as no surprise, the Wall Street Journal having reported on Saturday that the U.S. is increasingly worried about an Israeli strike on Iran.
If, then, the drill was called off because of fears of heating up the region, it seems more likely that the fears were on the U.S. side. For Israel the region is already heating up—possibly unbearably so. Israeli analysts Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel say that whereas, for Israel, Iran’s underground enrichment at Fordo is the crossing of a red line, “the American red line…is more distant—at the point were Iran has progressed in the development of a nuclear warhead….”
Israel doesn’t want to wait that long. It would much prefer that the international community join forces to stop Iran’s march to nukes. Its leaders are not convinced that’s happening.
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