US army officers have begun arriving in Israel ahead of joint military manoeuvres between the countries' armed forces, an Israeli newspaper said on Sunday.

The officers will supervise the arrival of hundreds of US troops on October 14 for joint manoeuvres that will take place the following week and last for three weeks, according to Yediot Aharonot.

The US-Israeli exercises will be the most important yet between the two countries, the paper said.

Time magazine reported on September 1 that Washington had significantly reduced the number of its joint military exercises with Israel, probably because of disagreement between them over how best to deal with Iran's nuclear programme.

Yediot said Israel's air defences will be tested on this occasion, including its Hetz missile-to-missile batteries and its "Iron Dome" rocket interception system.

Israel, the US and much of the international community accuses Iran of seeking to develop atomic weapons capability under the guise of a peaceful programme for civilian use, charges that Tehran has repeatedly rejected.

An Israeli army spokeswoman contacted by AFP refused to comment on the upcoming military exercises.

Time said Washington had reduced the number of military staff going to Israel, as well as the number and strength of missile defence systems that would be used during operation Austere Challenge 12.

Of the initial 5,000 US troops lined up to take part in the exercises, only up to 1,500 will take part. US Patriot missiles will be sent as originally planned, but not the crews that were to operate the batteries, Time said.

In addition, only one of two Aegis anti-missile cruisers is bound for Israel, and even this is not certain, according to the magazine.


Photo: AFP