US, Israel to kick off largest joint military exercise

“Consider the distance between ourselves and Israel, where the president said that he was going to put daylight between us and Israel,” Romney said at Tuesday night’s presidential debate. “We have Iran four years closer to a nuclear bomb.”

Air Force Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin said at the outset of the call that the $30-million drill, which will kick off in late October, was “not related to national elections or any perceived tensions in the Middle East.”

Franklin and his Israeli counterpart Israeli Defense Forces Brig. Gen. Nitzan Nuriel repeated several times during the call that the drill was not directed toward Iran or any other specific threat, but rather to deal with “potential threats coming from all fronts,” as Nuriel described it.

The drill is the seventh U.S.-Israeli joint military exercise, which will include 3,500 U.S. personnel, including 1,000 on the ground in Israel.

Franklin would not give the exact date that the three-week exercise will start for security reasons, but said it would be late this month. He is arriving around Oct. 24, he said.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported Wednesday that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey is also planning to be in Israel to observe the exercise.

The drill, "Austere Challenge 12," is designed to test the integration of U.S. and Israeli missile defense systems against rockets, mortars, and short- and long-range ballistic missiles.

It will also include drones flights, Nuriel said, which comes after Hezbollah reportedly flew a drone over Israel.

The drill, the seventh U.S.-Israeli joint exercise, was initially scheduled for the spring, but was delayed at Israel’s request, Franklin said.

Asked about the message the drill would send, Franklin said the purpose was not to send a message but to improve the countries’ missile defense capabilities.

Nuriel said that “the fact we are practicing together, working together is strong message in itself.”