U.S. soldiers arrive in Israel for largest-ever military exercise

Military exercise
JERUSALEM -- More than 1,000 U.S. soldiers have begun to arrive in Israel for the largest-ever joint military exercise between the two nations to test their cooperation in the event of a large-scale missile attack against Israel.

The three-week, $30-million war games are purely defensive in nature and unrelated to any specific regional threat, Air Force Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin said during a briefing with reporters Wednesday.

Israel is particularly worried about recent turmoil and new threats in the region. Syria’s unrest is raising fears about the fate of its chemical weapons. Israel has threatened to launch a military attack against Iran’s purported nuclear weapons program. An Iranian-built unmanned spy drone sent by Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group was shot down over Israel last week.

Militants in the Gaza Strip this week, for the first time, fired an antiaircraft missile against Israeli planes. Israeli officials believe that weapon and many more like it were smuggled into Gaza from Libya after the revolution in that country.

But Franklin stressed that the exercise, which will include tests of U.S.-made Patriot and Aegis missile defense systems, had been planned for two years and was not intended to send any signal about possible upcoming military operations.

The drill is “not there to send a message,” he said.

In the same telephone briefing, however, Israel Defense Forces Brig. Gen. Nitzan Nuriel said that “anyone who wants can get any kind of message he wants from this exercise.”

Israel relies heavily on its close cooperation with the U.S. military to serve as a deterrent against its enemies.

The exercise will simulate a multifront missile attack against Israel, Nuriel said.

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Photo: A U.S. soldier works on an anti-missile system in an earlier U.S.-Israeli military exercise. About 1,000 U.S. military personnel are arriving in Israel for joint military exercises to take place over the next three weeks. Credit:  Ziv Koren / European Pressphoto Agency


Bin Laden apparently sought operative with valid Mexican passport

Anniversary of Bin Laden's deathWASHINGTON -- Osama bin Laden instructed his deputies to recruit an operative with a valid Mexican passport who could cross illegally into the United States, said a former U.S. official familiar with the trove of letters and notes seized last year from the terrorist leader’s compound.

U.S. intelligence analysts have combed through thousands of Bin Laden’s personal papers and computer files taken from the compound a year ago by Navy SEALs, and gleaned insights into Bin Laden’s strategic focus on attacking the U.S. as well as his concerns about the poor judgment of the rising generation of Al Qaeda leaders.

The notes also reflect how Bin Laden’s sometimes tortured religious logic bled into his battlefield orders.

In one letter written during the final year of Bin Laden’s life, the Saudi told his lieutenants that it would violate Islamic law for operatives who had pledged their loyalty to the U.S. to then turn around and launch attacks on U.S. soil, said the former official who spoke on condition of anonymity while discussing the intelligence.

In particular, Bin Laden was dismayed to find out that Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani American, had sworn allegiance to the U.S. during a citizenship ceremony just more than a year before he attempted to detonate an SUV loaded with explosives in New York’s Times Square in May 2010.

An operative with a valid Mexican passport would have easier access to the U.S. without violating an oath, Bin Laden wrote.

“Bin Laden wanted someone who had not pledged allegiance [to the U.S.]. He felt they were on stronger religious grounds,” said the former official.

The message was not the first time that U.S. intelligence officials had seen evidence that Al Qaeda wanted to smuggle operatives into the United States from it neighbors. A declassified CIA report written in 2003, titled “Al-Qaeda Remains Intent on Defeating U.S. Immigration Inspections,” said that specific information at the time demonstrated Al Qaeda’s “ongoing interest to enter the United States over land borders with Mexico and Canada.”

Some Arabic originals and English translations of the documents found in Bin Laden’s hideout have been declassified and will be published online Thursday by the Combating Terrorism Center, a think tank at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

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Photo: Supporters of Pakistan's religious party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam group hold a poster of the late Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden during a rally in Quetta, Pakistan, on Wednesday, marking the first anniversary of his death at the hands of U.S. troops. Credit: Associated Press / Arshad Butt


Brazil lashes out after military contract canceled

REPORTING FROM SAO PAULO -- Brazil has warned the U.S. government that the abrupt cancellation of a contract to buy Brazilian warplanes for the U.S. Air Force could damage military relations between the two countries.

Before it was revoked without explanation this week, the deal to purchase 20 Embraer Super Tucano light fighters -- Super Toucan in English -- was seen as a sign that relations with Latin America’s largest country were improving. President Dilma Rousseff plans to visit Washington next month.

“The Brazilian government learned with surprise of the suspension of the bid process to purchase A-29 Super Tucano aircraft by the United States Air Force, in particular due to its manner and timing,” the Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a statement. “This development is not considered conducive to strengthening relations between the two countries on defense affairs.”

This would have been the first Air Force purchase of aircraft from Brazil, an Embraer representative said Friday.

The official explanation for the decision was a problem in the documentation for the $355-million contract, but the Air Force has not yet said what the specific problems were.

The unexpected cancellation was an “embarrassment,” U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz told reporters Wednesday. “There’s no way to put a happy face on this.”

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-- Vincent Bevins 


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