(Reuters) – The United States and Israel have postponed an upcoming joint military exercise until later in the year, but sources in both countries denied on Sunday that the move was taken to avoid further escalating tensions with Iran.
The air-defense drill, named “Austere Challenge 12,” is expected to be the largest exercise between the two allies, who regularly hold joint military maneuvers.
The Pentagon said it was scheduled for the spring, but now would take place in the second half of 2012.
Israeli media reports originally said it was cancelled due to budgetary constraints. But some pundits speculated that the real reason was fear of creating further friction with Iran, which is showing signs of deepening isolation over its refusal to halt nuclear activity.
A U.S. official denied that tensions with Iran were a factor and an Israeli security source cited logistical problems. Both sources spoke on condition of anonymity.
“It’s for a host of reasons, mainly logistical, but not the reason you cited (tensions with Iran),” the Israeli source said.
Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain John Kirby played down the delay, saying it was not uncommon for routine exercises to be postponed.
“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,” Kirby said.