The United States will send a significantly smaller force of troops than earlier planned to an upcoming antimissile drill with Israel, Reuters quoted the U.S. Defense Department as saying on Friday.
"Austere Challenge 12 remains the largest-ever ballistic missile defense exercise between our nations and a significant increase from the previous event in 2009," according to Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Jack Miller.
"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," the Air Force officer said of the exercise, which at one point had been planned for last spring.
A Time magazine report indicated that 1,500 U.S. military personnel would participate in the October event, down from 5,000 once expected to be involved. The report comes amid increased tensions between Tel Aviv and Washington over how to deal with Iran's suspected drive toward a nuclear-weapon capability.
“Basically what the Americans are saying is, ‘We don’t trust you,'" the Israeli press quoted a high-level military officer as saying.
“The claims are baseless,” an Israeli Defense Ministry source countered in the Time report. “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."
Miller said the exercise "is a tangible sign of our mutual trust," Reuters reported.
The news agency quoted an informed Israeli defense source as saying the exercise "will be held on a similar scale as when it was last held, two years ago."