Pentagon: Israeli-U.S. Missile Exercise Postponed at Israel's Request (Updated)

Here's an interesting development in a story I wrote about earlier today: Despite claims made in the Israeli press that the Obama Administration, worried about provoking Iran, initiated a postponement of a massive joint Israeli-U.S. missile defense exercise scheduled to begin later this month, Pentagon officials say it was the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, who asked his counterpart, Leon Panetta, for the postponement. The claim that the exercise, dubbed "Austere Challenge 12," was scrubbed from the calendar because the Obama Administration feared provoking the Iranian regime is "baseless," one senior Pentagon official told me just a few minutes ago, in a telephone call initiated by a group of senior defense officials.

One of the senior defense officials told me this: "Minister Barak called Secretary Panetta and asked if we could take the exercise off the calendar. The Israelis were concerned that they did not have the resources in place to carry it out effectively." The exercise, which was to begin with a live-fire drill, would have involved several thousand Israelis as well as several thousand American military personnel, and Barak told Panetta, according to these officials, that Israel could not pull together the resources necessary to stage the exercise successfully. "Our military is much bigger than theirs and this exercise was going to consume a much larger portion of their resources," the official said.

Panetta, according to these Pentagon sources, was concerned that the Iranians would interpret the scrubbing of the exercise, well, the way it's currently being interpreted, as a sign of American wavering in the face of Iranian threats. He told Barak that he would not agree to a cancellation, as Barak was suggesting, but only a postponement. "Panetta's initial reaction was, 'I don't want to take this off the calendar.' He said it would send the wrong signal." After multiple conversations, Panetta and Barak agreed to postpone Austere Challenge 12 until fall.

This is the Pentagon's message. I'm awaiting Israeli comment on this recounting of events, which I will post when I get it.

UPDATE: As of 5:15 p.m., Eastern, still waiting on that Israeli comment. There seems to be much confusion and awkwardness about the delayed exercise. Laura Rozen broke the original story, and she has a useful summary of the miscommunications and misfirings here.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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