Eyeing Iran, Israel tests missile defenses with U.S.

Wed Oct 21, 2009 2:15am EDT

TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Israel and the United States launched a major air defense drill Wednesday as part of what Israeli public radio called preparation for a faceoff with Iran.

During the two-week maneuvers, dubbed Juniper Cobra, some 1,000 American personnel will mesh ground- and ship-based missile interceptors like the Aegis, THAAD and Patriot with Israel’s Arrow II ballistic shield, defense officials said.

Spokesmen on both sides insisted the biennial drill was unrelated to world events, but Israel Radio quoted an unnamed commander as saying it served “to prepare for a nuclear Iran.”

The United States and other world powers are trying to talk Tehran into giving up nuclear technologies with bomb-making potential, while the Israelis watch warily from the sidelines.

Israel, which is assumed to have the Middle East’s only atomic arsenal, has hinted it could resort to force to prevent its arch-foe attaining the means to threaten its existence.

But some analysts believe that tactical limitations, and U.S. misgivings about pre-emptive strikes, may compel Israel to accept a more defensive posture with the help of its top ally.

Iran denies seeking the bomb and has threatened to retaliate for any attack by firing its medium-range missiles at Israel.

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