Israel’s Missile Shield Against Iran: Three Americans in a Trailer
By Aluf Benn and Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondents
A commander and two operators monitor missile radars in an armored trailer somewhere in Europe. Inside, they use satellite technology to track the origin and trajectory of long-range missiles. In true American fashion, each shift begins with calisthenics, followed by an intelligence briefing.
That is the envisioned routine of the U.S. team that will be responsible for protecting Israel from surface-to-surface missiles launched from Iran or Syria.
Earlier this month the U.S. and Israel agreed on the deployment of a high-powered early-warning missile radar system in the Negev, to be staffed by U.S. military personnel. The station will receive information from the U.S. team in Europe that will aid it in its work.
The deployment of the Joint Tactical Ground Station (JTAGS) system, is widely seen as a kind of parting gift from Washington to Jerusalem as President George W. Bush prepares to leave office.
That’s what it made me think of, too. What kind of help might Israel expect from an Obama administration? How will a possible President Obama react when Iran’s nukes become a strategic reality, or when Deobandi forces seize Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal?
The system will protect Israel’s skies from missile attacks, but the flip side of the deal is that Israel’s freedom of action against Iran or Syria will be significantly curtailed.
Israel will be required to obtain U.S. permission for any such operation, since it would endanger the lives of the U.S. personnel operating the system. The ground station itself would likely become the target of any reprisal attack by Iran or Syria.
And here’s an aspect of the operation that I hadn’t considered:
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Senior defense officials view the radar system deployment as a signal of Washington’s opposition to an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear program.
Rumor already has it that the US says it will not help Israel attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. Now it seems that we are going to use what leverage we have to restrain them.
Is there no choice, then, but to accept the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran?
Sources in Jerusalem said on Saturday that the Negev station would be operated by civilian firms contracted by the Pentagon, along with a small staff of liaison officers. The early warning station is expected to be transferred to Israeli operation at some point in the future.
The officials said the agreement does not stipulate the establishment of a permanent U.S. base in Israeli territory.
They said the warning station would significantly extend the response time to a missile attack and intercept those attacks from a far greater distance than had been previously possible.
Israel’s current missile defense system depends on the identification of a single U.S. satellite, which can spot the missile itself but not its origin or path.
The new system is significantly more accurate than Israel’s “Green Pine” radar system, which supports the Arrow anti-missile system.
JTAGS will cost between $20 and $30 million, the U.S. periodical Defense News reported last week.
The system is expected to be set up next year, but it could go on-line earlier, ahead of a large-scale U.S.-Israeli missile defense drill slated for this fall.
Read the whole article for a lot more detail on the history and politics of the installation of the FBX-T system in Israel.
Hat tip: Abu Elvis.