Tension between Israel and Iran is growing, with a top U.S. military official visiting Israel to oversee a joint drill amid claims that Tehran has sensitive images of Israeli military bases obtained from a drone operated by the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah.
Security ties between the United States and Israel are “deeper and stronger” than ever, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said after meeting with visiting U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey in Tel Aviv on Oct. 28.
A statement from Barak’s office said the two discussed the largest-ever joint Israeli-U.S. drill, codenamed Austere Challenge 12, scheduled to last about three weeks and which simulates a missile attack on Israel from locations such as Iran, Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, daily Haaretz reported. An honor guard received the U.S. general at Israel’s defense headquarters in central Tel Aviv, an Israeli military statement said, and Israeli Chief of Staff Benny Gantz hosted the welcoming ceremony.
Some 3,500 U.S. troops are participating in the drill, which will test anti-missile batteries, with 1,000 troops inside Israel and the rest taking part from Europe and the Mediterranean Sea. The joint exercise tests multiple Israeli and American air defense systems against incoming missiles and rockets from places as far away as Iran. The drill is estimated to cost the U.S. $30 million and Israel some $8 million.
Iran holds pictures of Israeli bases
Dempsey’s visit comes as Tehran announced that it had obtained images of sensitive Israeli military bases taken by a drone launched by Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement and downed by Israel earlier this month.
The announcement gave no details about the photos, calling the Israeli bases “forbidden sites,” but it suggested that Iranian drones have the ability to transmit data while in flight, The Associated Press reported. It also appeared to be a warning to Israel concerning its options for retaliation should any possible strike on Iranian nuclear sites occur. A prominent lawmaker, Ismaeil Kowsari, was also quoted as saying that the Iranian-backed Hezbollah possesses more sophisticated Iranian-made drones than the one that was downed, including some that could carry weapons. “These drones transmit the pictures online,” Kowsari told semi-official Mehr news agency. “The pictures of forbidden sites taken and transmitted by this drone are now in our possession.”
Israel immediately denied Tehran’s claims. A senior officer in the country’s northern command dismissed the Iranian claim, according to Agence France-Presse. “I don’t think there was a camera,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity, although he admitted that the incident was “still being investigated.”
On Oct. 6 Israel’s air force shot down the unarmed drone over the Negev Desert after it entered the country’s airspace from the Mediterranean Sea. At the time, the Israeli military dismissed the idea that the drone could have been launched from Gaza and said it was examining the possibility it may have been sent by Hezbollah.
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