The US tightens its grip on Israel’s defense capability

FBX-T X-band radar

FBX-T X-band radar system. The antenna is on the truck near the bottom of the photo.

The US is in the process of installing an FBX-T (“Forward-Based X-Band Radar-Transportable“) system in Israel. The system is not being sold or even leased to Israel, and it will be operated by American personnel. In effect, it is an extension of the US missile defense system’s data acquisition capabilities to Israel.

The radar has a range of about 1200 miles (1900 km) — about twice that of the radar presently used by Israel’s Arrow anti-Missile system. That means that it could detect Iranian and Syrian missiles immediately after launch, improving the chances that they could be intercepted.

“X-band” refers to the frequency of signals transmitted by the system, near 10 GHz. This corresponds to a wavelength of 3 cm; and the shorter the wavelength, the better the resolution of the radar. So it will be able to detect very small objects and more importantly to discriminate between different types of missiles — perhaps even to discriminate between missiles carrying warheads and dummies.

Yaakov Katz, in the Jerusalem Post, writes:

The radar’s arrival is not just meant to improve defense capabilities against Iran, defense officials noted this week. It is also America’s way of bolstering its presence in the region in the face of a growing Russian presence in Syria.

Moscow is renovating the Syrian port of Tartus, which will be used to house a permanent Russian naval presence in the Mediterranean. President Bashar Assad visited Moscow last month, and told the Russian daily Kommersant that Damascus was “ready to cooperate with Russia in any way,” including discussing deploying missile defense systems on Syrian territory.

“America has just as much interest in what is going on in the region as we do,” a senior Israeli defense official explained. “Keep in mind that while we will receive the radar data, the Americans will be controlling the system and using it for their purposes, as well.”

Israel did not even receive permission to have any personnel at the station. Although this will probably be explained by a desire to keep details of the system secret, probably the greatest concern is prevent Israel from using the data for its own initiatives — such as preemptive attacks on Iran or Syria.

The radar will also provide information on everything that flies — including small objects such as drones  — within its range. This will make it possible for the US to know immediately if, for example, Israel moves against Hamas in Gaza or Hezbollah in Lebanon. TIME Magazine quoted some Israeli officials as ‘wary’:

The radar will allow the U.S. to keep a close watch on anything moving in Israeli skies, “even a bee”, says one top Israeli official who asked not to be identified. The U.S. may be a close ally, but Israel nonetheless has aviation secrets it would rather not share. “Even a husband and wife have a few things they’d like to keep from each other,” explains this source. “Now we’re standing without our clothes on in front of America.”

Israel will have no direct access to the data collected by the radar, which looks like a giant taco. It will only be fed intelligence second hand, on a need-to-know basis, from the Americans — unless the radar picks up an immediate, direct attack on Israel, Israeli sources claim. And Israeli officials expressed concern that the radar’s installation may anger Moscow, since its range will enable the U.S. to monitor aircraft in the skies over southern Russia. When the U.S. stationed anti-missile radar and interceptor systems in Poland and the Czech Republic — ostensibly directed at a future Iranian threat, although the Russians believe their own missile capability is its real target — Moscow warned those countries that the move could result in their being added to the target list of Russia’s missiles.

If the US wishes to prevent Israel from taking some action it always has had the capability of doing so. But at least until now, there has been the possibility of Israel taking action before the US knows about it.

Soon this will not be the case. This radar system may be intended as much or more to control Israel as to defend her. Israelis should be more than just ‘wary’ of abdicating their responsibility to defend the nation and placing it in the hands of others, whose interests are, after all, their own.

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7 Responses to “The US tightens its grip on Israel’s defense capability”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    The Israeli Government had to approve the placing of this radar on its soil. I have not seen any reasoned defense of this by Israeli officials. Perhaps, there are elements here which we know nothing about.
    And that much said, it seems to me that the reservations noted here concerning the possible American limiting of Israeli military initiatives do make it seem very questionable that this bit of help for Israel will be more of hindrance than help.

  2. ME says:

    Why do you at every instance insist that Israel and the US are allies and then act circumspectly about the US’ intentions to aid Israel?

    There is nothing sinister about the placement of this system, in fact, it likely supplements if not replaces the need for Israel to have Arrow 3.

    There is nothing in your commentary that indicates harm or debilitation with respect to the device.

    Sometimes the complaints are too complaining.

  3. Vic Rosenthal says:

    The US behaves toward Israel in accordance with its national interest. In some cases that is perceived as preventing Israel from taking actions that are in its national interest. This requires intelligence.

    If the radar is only to protect Israel, why does the US not allow Israeli personnel to be there as observers?

  4. DALevit says:

    “If the radar is only to protect Israel, why does the US not allow Israeli personnel to be there as observers?”

    I would offer the possibility that this policy appears to give America a status of neutrality between the Nation of Israel and the Iranian Government, which it would not have if Israeli observers were part of the day-to-day routine. Also, obviously, to keep the US secrets secret. We do remember our history, right?

    Moving into it: *If* this radar system will protect Israel from Iranian Nuclear attack, as intended, the implication is that Israel can forgo its (possible) plans to attack the Iranian Nuclear Site because Israel is, therefore, “safe.” Of course, they must take it on faith for obvious reasons.

    Iran can then have it’s nuclear power plant(wink wink) , and Israel can begin pretending it is still in control of its own destiny. Everyone can take a deep breath and go home because Big Daddy America is handling it, like the good teacher keeping two battling children apart on a playground.

    Except these aren’t children and this isn’t a playground.

    Sometimes you have to pick a side and stay on it, and hope to g-d you chose right, America. You also need a memory long enough to recall who your real friends are and who is not. It wasn’t long ago at all when a certain familiar Arab nation, starting with an “I” was calling for the complete annihilation of the United States of America. It was not Iraq.

    Has Israel ever once threatened America? Were all those years of friendship and the exchange of sensitive information and military ideas figments of the world’s imagination? If needed, Israel would be the first to send war planes to protect America. What was America doing during the Six-Day War? And — what would Iran do in such an event? One guess would probably do it.

    This is no place for Cowboy Interventionism. This is Israel! The United States has allowed Iran to reach this point of nuclear capability, against the near desperate cries of Israel to prevent it, or they would. Slinging this piece of equipment in place, and then adding insult to injury by shutting out Israel from technology resting on its sovereign soil — may work. Well, we have to hope so. It’s there now. So is American arrogance, and Big Brother came along for the ride.

    And if it doesn’t work, well, we’re probably next.
    DAL

  5. ME says:

    DA Levit, you raise excellent points.

    This may appear to be pulling hairs, but, Iran is not considered an Arab country. That is one of the key distinguishing factors that allows for exploitation against it by other, predominately “Arab” countries in the Middle East.

    Many Iranians abhor the thought of being considered “Arab,” and like to insist on an imperialistic view of their cultural identity as stemming from the Persian empire. So, they use the term Persian, and it is considered a distinct ethnicity apart from Arabs.

    Otherwise, again, your points are well reasoned and I agree that America has a real opportunity to act as neutral and defense.

  6. DALevit says:

    Thanks, ME. It’s always good to learn something useful like this.

  7. ME says:

    DA Levit:

    You write very well, and you seem to be well informed.

    I am suprised you were not aware of that distinction, since you seem to be aware of alot and provide meaningful insight.

    I don’t really subscribe to the overly cynical outlook with respect to American arrogance, or other terms like Big Daddy and Big Brother.

    I do think that there is no way Israel would be in a position to choose Iran over America as an ally at any point now or in the future, so that parallel about Israel knowing who its friends are with respect to having to choose, does not really make sense. Indication of that is the fact that Israel aided an American commercial flight arriving to TA from NY yesterday, which had lost communication.

    In other words, the article and general sentiment expressed by Israel or pro-Israel writers, over not being able to observe the actions by America on Israeli territory, is not really as far – reaching as placing Israel in a position of having to choose who it is friends and allies are. And American arrogance is not the issue. Security, and probable effective defense are the most likely reasons.

    It was nothing.

    Take Care.

    ME