Reliable exercise partners rarely postpone. And if they do, it's in poor taste to point fingers behind each other's back. But this week longtime exercise couple Israel and the U.S. are breaking all the rules.

The trouble began on Sunday when Israeli defense officials leaked to Israeli media that a major U.S.-Israeli missile defense exercise scheduled for spring had been postponed due to U.S. fears that the drill would escalate tensions with Iran. Haaretz had the writeup: 

According to an Israeli defense official, Washington wants to avoid causing further tensions in the region, especially in light of the sensitive situation that has been generated after various reports in the international media that the U.S. and Israel are preparing to strike Iran's nuclear facilities.

Important to remember, this exercise is no casual jog around the block. It's a big deal. The two countries had said it would involve 5,000 U.S. soliders and amount to the largest-ever joint drill between the two countries (i.e. the equivalent of a couple's marathon). As such, the postponement made waves at such venerable institutions as the Council on Foreign Relations, whose Elliott Abrams chided the two partners for sending a weak message to Iran in an article titled "How Not to React to Provocations from Iran." 
 
On Monday, Yahoo's Laura Rozen served up more intel on the dispute. "Because the decision to postpone the war games leaked first in Israel, plans for a joint statement didn't materialize Sunday," she reported. Additionally, the U.S. began its own whisper campaign blaming Israel for the exercise's postponement. 
 

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak issued a request to the Pentagon last month that the planned joint exercise be postponed, a U.S. official told Yahoo News Sunday.

"It was Barak," the U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.

What's more, the U.S. went into detail why it thought Israel was wrong for wanting to postpone the exercise. "The United States did not seek the delay--and American sources privately voiced concern that the Israeli request for a postponement of the exercise could be read as a potential warning sign that Israel is leaving its options open to conduct a preemptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities in the spring."
 

Twisting the knife further, Pentagon officials told The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg today that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was personally in disagreement with the Israelis over the scheduling conflict:

Panetta, according to these Pentagon sources, was concerned that the Iranians would interpret the scrubbing of the exercise, well, the way it's currently being interpreted, as a sign of American wavering in the face of Iranian threats. He told Barak that he would not agree to a cancellation, as Barak was suggesting, but only a postponement. "Panetta's initial reaction was, 'I don't want to take this off the calendar.' He said it would send the wrong signal." After multiple conversations, Panetta and Barak agreed to postpone Austere Challenge 12 until fall.

 

Israel has yet to respond to this version of events so it's anyone's guess if the blame game will continue. Clearly, the more each side leaks to the press, the more the exercise partnership is imperiled! 

[photo courtesy Shutterstock Kzenon]