The United States and Israel will begin their largest joint air and missile defense exercise by the end of this month, sending a message of solidarity between the nations to Iran and to American voters just before the Nov. 6 presidential election.

The U.K. and Germany also will participate in the three-week "Austere Challenge" exercise involving as many as 3,500 U.S. personnel along with 1,000 members of the Israel Defense Forces, said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Wendy Snyder, a Pentagon spokeswoman.

"The exercise will include missile defense elements, as well as combat-service support units" and participants from all four U.S. military services, she said.

The allied exercise is "no doubt intended at least partly to showcase that extensive U.S.-Israeli military cooperation continues despite the differences between the two nations over the immediacy and scope of the threat posed by Iran's nuclear enrichment program," Kenneth Katzman, a Middle East specialist for the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service in Washington, said.

The exercise, which was postponed from earlier this year, follows a U.S.-led exercise completed last month that involved more than 30 nations in the largest mine-clearing demonstration in the Middle East. -- Bloomberg News

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