By Konstantin Garibov
The United States and Israel are due to hold the Austere Challenge-12 military exercise in the Middle East to train troops in interacting in antimissile and antiaircraft defences, and also to boost coordination of action by Israeli and US Army servicemen.
The war games will prove the largest-scale ones in the two countries’ military cooperation history. Thousands of US and Israeli Army servicemen, dozens of ships and deck-based aircraft are due to take part.
The two countries held the war games of similar scale three years ago. In autumn 2009, more than a thousand US Army servicemen helped the Israelis to service antiaircraft batteries, and drilled joint action of the two countries’ troops to deal with a likely military conflict in the region. Tehran took the war games as an unprecedented pressure that was brought to bear on the Islamic Republic.
The Pentagon now claims that the military exercise was planned long ago and should by no means be seen as a response to Iran’s Wilayat-90 military exercise, which drew to a close in the Strait of Hormuz on January 4th . But according to reports late last month, the US-Israeli military exercise was originally due in spring this year. Experts claim that it is Tehran’s successful testing of two Iran-made Gader anti-ship cruise missiles that prompted the US and Israel to reconsider the time of their military exercise and hold it at an early date. Gader missiles are capable of hitting targets at a distance of 200 kilometres. Besides, the Pentagon Chief Leon Panetta pledged to go to any lengths to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
Adding fuel to the fire in the region, as it were, is the raging political crisis in Syria, as well as Iran’s recent threat to block the Strait of Hormuz, which is unacceptable to the United States. In the event of a US-Israeli military conflict with Iran, fighting may spread to the entire region, an expert with the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Oriental Studies Liudmila Koulagina says, and elaborates.
“The Middle East nations, Liudmila Koulagina says, are clearly opposed to any fighting in the region on the understanding that even an airstrike on Iran will inevitably provoke Iran’s retaliatory strikes on a number of neighbouring countries. Fighting would inevitably sweep the entire region. Now, this is the worst-case scenario for the Middle East, since it is a major oil region and a home to US closest allies, such as Saudi Arabia. Any fighting in the Middle East would prove a great error.”
Meanwhile Tehran has said that it will soon hold yet another military exercise, namely one in the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf in February. The exercise will be titled the way it has been in the past seven years, Great Prophet, but the Iranian military warns there’ll be some changes made, without bothering to specify. Now, if Austere Challenge-12 happens to coincide with Great Prophet, which is not at all impossible, the Middle East will for the first time ever become the scene of two biggest simultaneous war games.