Photo Credit: Tech. Sgt. Kevin Gruenwald/ Wikimedia Commons

The much-publicized joint defense drill planned between Israel and the United States has been postponed in the wake of quickly escalating tensions between the two countries and Iran.

The decision to delay ‘Austere Challenge 12’ for six months was made by Washington, which felt tensions in the Middle East would be ramped up by a display of the allies’ military maneuverings.  The drill is scheduled to be the largest joint military exercise to ever take place between the nations, will include approximately 5,000 soldiers from Israel and the US, and will simulate a ballistic missile strike on Israel in order to test the country’s missile defense systems.

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Recent days and weeks have seen an increase in speculation that Israel is preparing to bomb Iranian nuclear targets, with a top Iranian nuclear scientist killed in a car bomb on January 11. Following that attack, the 5th such assassination of an Iranian scientist in 2 years, Tehran submitted a letter to Washington accusing the CIA of committing the bombing.

Iran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, a critical oil supply route.  The United States passed a message to Iran on Sunday that blocking the waterway would constitute a “red line” over which Iran could not cross without an American response.

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