US, Israel plan massive missile defense wargame

The three-week exercise, known as Austere Challenge, is set to begin Oct. 14 in Israel and will include multiple simulated and real-world missile threat scenarios, focusing on vulnerable areas inside the country, according to a Israeli military official. 

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The exercise will also test the ability of American forces to rapidly position missile defense systems in and around Israel in the event of an attack, the official told the Jerusalem Post on Thursday. 

The drill will be capped off by a live missile shootdown of a Patriot surface-to-air missile, designed to replicate an incoming threat by regional powers against targets within Israel. 

Washington and Jerusalem initially planned to hold the exercise last spring, but those plans were scrubbed due to escalating tensions with Iran along the Strait of Hormuz. 

At the time, Tehran had threatened to shut down the Strait, which is the primary waterway into the Persian Gulf, to all U.S military and commercial vessels. 

The threats were in reaction to U.S. and allies' efforts to ratchet up international pressure on Iran to open up its nuclear enrichment program to U.N. inspectors. 

American forces will begin setting up positions inside Israel and in the Mediterranean Sea in mid-October. 

The timing of the exercise comes days before President Obama and GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney square off in the first in two key foreign policy debates of the election.

The Romney camp has hammered the White House over its handling of Israeli concerns regarding Iran's nuclear enrichment program. 

Members of Israel's ruling elite, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, suggest Israel could launch a preemptive strike against Iran to prevent the country from obtaining an atomic bomb. 

Administration officials have publicly pushed back against Jerusalem's claims that Tehran is much closer to gaining a nuclear weapon than what Western intelligence agencies had thought. 

For their part, top GOP campaign advisers claim there would be "no daylight" between Israel and a Romney White House on the issue of Iran's nuclear ambitions. 

At the very least, any disagreements between a Romney administration and Israel over Iran "would not be played out in the headlines" but handled behind closed doors, Romney foreign policy adviser Dov Zakheim said Thursday. 

"What you have to do is have [Israel's] total confidence ... [and] have it in real terms," Zakheim said, adding the public back and forth between the U.S. and Israel on Iran did little to build that confidence inside Jerusalem.