Prior to all the rising tensions around Iran, the US and Israel had scheduled a large set of joint military exercises in the spring. Maybe this wasn’t necessarily a provocative act, but with everything happening around Iran, it gained a new resonance. So today, when the two sides postponed the exercises, some saw it as a way to cool those tensions.

The missile defense exercise, dubbed “Austere Challenge 12,” was scheduled for April to improve defense systems and cooperation between U.S. and Israeli forces. The Israeli military confirmed in a one-line statement that the drill would be rescheduled for the second half of 2012, but did not disclose reasons for the postponement or any other details.

The defense officials who linked the deferral to Iran spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the decision-making process. They offered no other reasons for the delay.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said it was a “joint” decision with the U.S. to defer the military exercise. “The thinking was it was not the right timing now to conduct such an exercise,” he said. He refused to elaborate.

Thousands of American and Israeli soldiers were to take part in the exercise, which was designed to test multiple Israeli and U.S. air defense systems against incoming missiles and rockets from places as far away as Iran.

The Wall Street Journal goes further, claiming that the US warned Israel off an attack on Iran, and that the postponement of these exercises reflects that. The new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, will meet with Israeli officials this week.

President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other top officials have delivered a string of private messages to Israeli leaders warning about the dire consequences of a strike. The U.S. wants Israel to give more time for the effects of sanctions and other measures intended to force Iran to abandon its perceived efforts to build nuclear weapons [...]

The U.S. and Iran, however, have taken steps in recent days apparently designed to ease tensions. Iran has agreed to host a delegation of United Nations nuclear inspectors this month. The U.S., meanwhile, has twice this month rescued Iranian sailors in the region’s seas.

I certainly hope for this to be the case. Before the general election gets into full swing and Republicans bully Democrats into accepting a military frame on Iran relations, it would be good to start things on a far less tense footing. Juan Cole believes that the US will not launch a strike on Iran during an election year because of the uncertainty surrounding that event. Uncertainty doesn’t play well in politics. And that’s perhaps true. But there’s no question that the Romney campaign (I think we can safely say he will be the President’s 2012 opponent) will attempt to cast Obama as soft on Iran, unwilling to do what’s necessary to protect Israel. And that adds an unpredictability of its own. So before we get off into dangerous territory, lowering the volume of the exchanges would be a good start.

Given the respect the Israeli government has shown the President, and the closeness of that government with movement conservatism, I wouldn’t rule out an Israeli strike simply to inject that level of unpredictability into the Presidential race.