Some 1,000 U.S. troops have begun arriving in
Israel for a huge military drill, scheduled to start later in the
month and last some three weeks, a senior US military official said
The drill, the biggest ever held between the US and Israel and significantly larger than the last one in 2009, will cost the US 30 million dollars, said Third Air Force Commander Craig Franklin, in charge of the Austere Challenge 2012 exercise.
However, the US commander would not answer political questions, including whether the drill was preparation for a potential future strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.
He stressed several times that the drill had professional objectives only, was planned for more than two years, and "not tied to any particular world event."
Another 2,500 additional troops will participate from elsewhere in Europe and the Mediterranean, said Franklin.
The troops will be deployed at various locations across Israel, the lieutenant-general told reporters in a telephone briefing.
Washington is also sending equipment, including batteries of the latest version of the Patriot Missile Defence System, and the Aegis ballistic missile defence ship.
The troops will practice rockets, mortars and ballistic missiles targeting Israel from multiple fronts - whether from Iran, Syria, Lebanon or Gaza - using computer modelling to simulate more than one salvo landing a day, under a challenging high-tempo and -stress scenario.
The exercise should have taken place in the spring, but was postponed at Israel's request, he said. He declined to give a reason.
Reports at the time had said the timing was too sensitive and could have been interpreted by Iran as a provocation.
"The U.S. commitment to Israel's security is unwavering," said the lieutenant-general.
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