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.
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.