More US ears in Israel

At a cost of US$89 million to the American taxpayers, the US Senate, with no hesitation, passed a bill that was attached by Republican Senator Joe Kyle, to the federal defense budget to deploy another sophisticated long-range radar system to Israel.

What was the rush that the US military amid the country's financial and economic crisis had to speed up the deployment of a most powerful and therefore expensive system, called AN/TPY-2 forward-based X-band, a year earlier than it was scheduled previously? The X-band system, deployed to Israel on September

26, was originally scheduled for delivery in 2009 for joint training exercises, according to the US European Command mission (EUCOM).

For reasons not explained by the US Senate Intelligence Committee, the ownership of Army/Navy Transportable Radar Surveillance remains with Washington and will be installed and operated permanently by 120 US military personnel drawn from US units stationed in Germany and across the rest of Europe.

The well-revealed secret of this rush delivery of the X-band radar system lies in the fact that the US has finally come to the realization that with two active wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at hand and an explosive situation in Pakistan, with an 170 million population and a large atomic arsenal, not to mention the ever-deepening financial and economic stranglehold threatening not only the housing but also the banking and industrial sectors of the Western capitalist economies, it has, though unwillingly, resigned itself to taking the war-on-Iran option off the table and beginning a dialogue with an ever-stronger and confident Tehran.

It is also a well-known fact that the US is quietly engaged in preliminary fact-finding talks with Iran. This has become a huge source of anxiety for the leaders in Tel Aviv who feel abandoned by Washington or cheaply sold for the benefit of the US. The delivery of an important element of the US Ballistic Missile Defense Shield to Israel a year ahead of schedule goes some way in relaxing the sense of anxiety and desperation with regard to the current US-Iran dialogue and could be considered compensation for Israel's loss of its junior role in shaping American foreign policy in the Middle East region.

The radar is to be installed at Israel's Nevatim Air Base1 in the Negev desert in the south of the country, making it the first time that US Army personnel will be permanently stationed in Israel. The type of X-band radar proposed by the US Army works on the same wavelength as a microwave oven. Its tremendous power gives it impressive precision and velocity. It can locate an object the size of a baseball 2,900 miles (4,700 kilometers) away.

The X-based radar is designed to track ballistic missile warheads moving through space and provide ground-based missiles with the data needed to intercept them. But serious concerns have been raised for the safety of the communities living near the radar. For example, in the Czech Republic, where a similar type of radar is planned to be installed, 60% of the population remains opposed to the US project, many due to public health concerns.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the radar would serve not only Israel, but also the US military forces in the hemisphere. The radar will be integrated with both the Israeli and the US Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) networks. It is prudent for US citizens to know that prior to the present $89 million gift of radar to Israel, according to stratfor.com, "The now-operational Israeli Arrow Ballistic Missile System (BMD) in all likelihood would not have been possible without US assistance and aid."

On one hand, the link between Israel's currently operational Arrow Missiles through the medium of the X-band radar with the US offense and defensive missile system suggests a broad integration of missile defense shields of the two countries. On the other hand, the fact that the US deployed the new radar in separate parts and under the radar shows that the US gave lip-service to Iran, trying to avoid antagonizing it at a time with which it is engaged in complex negotiations.

As to the needs, uses and introduction of such radar systems into the Middle East, various scenarios have already been advanced by the US and Israeli sources, some of which are misleading. For example, one story depicts the installation of the radar system and the permanent presence of its American crews as intended to restrain Israel from taking a unilateral military attack against the Iranian nuclear facilities and military establishment. The converse scenario, mostly sponsored by pro-Israel mouthpieces argue that the system is intended to strengthen Israel's defensive ability against Iranian retaliation should Israel or the US decide to attack Iran.

The last and most plausible scenario is that the US intends to add one more strategic military base to the other 1,000 military bases that it operates around the world for containing and intimidating independent countries in the region like Iran, Syria and Lebanon.

An underground strategic air command post is reportedly located at Nevatim Air Base. Located southeast of Beersheba on the edge of the Negev, this facility was originally built in 1947 as landing strip known as Malhata.

In September 1978, Israeli and Egyptian negotiators met with former US president Jimmy Carter at Camp David to negotiate the terms of peace. An agreement was signed in March 1979 which called for the phased withdrawal of all Israeli troops from the Sinai by 1982. The Camp David Accords were matched by American pledges for security assistance for both Israel and Egypt totaling nearly $3 billion. A new airbase, planned and built by Israel with US funding opened October 1983 with two runways - 3,050 meters and 2,440 meters in length. Three of the IDF's key air bases - Ramat David, Tel Nof and Nevatim - are all located close to the pre-1967 ceasefire lines, known as the "Green Line".

In July 1998, it was reported that Turkish warplanes are based at Nevatim on a regular basis as part of an agreement between Turkey and Israel. In return, Israeli jets are based in Turkey. The Elrom Company has prepared a study examining the possibility of establishing a second international airport for Israel at Nevatim. An unusual coalition of mayors and citizens of the Dan metropolitan area and the Negev has been formed to lobby for developing Nevatim.

Tens of F-16 fighter jets, originating from a base in the south of the country, landed March 31, 2003, at the Nevatim Air Force base. A ceremony for the transfer of the squadron was held in the presence of the Commander of the Israeli Air Force, Major General Dan Halutz. The new squadron will be known as the "Flying Wing".

A decade earlier, the Israeli Defense Forces chain of command raised the question of whether or not to close the base at Nevatim as a result of budgetary woes. However, with reception of the new squadron and additional changes in the offing, Nevatim has been transformed into one of largest bases in the country. In June 2003, an additional squadron of F-16's arrived at the base, and plans have been made to receive transport planes. F-16's were introduced to the Israeli Air Force in 1980, and serve as the backbone of the Israeli Air Force. A year after their arrival, the planes were deployed to bomb the Iraqi nuclear reactor. Several of the planes that were moved participated in the attack.

Ardeshir Ommani has been a writer and activist in the anti-war and anti-imperialist struggle for many years, including against the Vietnam War. Ardeshir is a co-founder of the American-Iranian Friendship Committee (AIFC) which strives to build a movement promoting peace and preventing a US-led war on Iran. Ardeshir helped launch the successful www.StopWarOnIran.org campaign, the very first Iran Internet anti-war campaign. Contact info: Ardeshiromm@optonline.net

(Copyright 2008 Ardeshir Ommani.)

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