A radar system, which the United States agreed in July to deploy in Israel to counter a perceived missile threat from Iran, is to go operational in mid-December, army radio reported today. The US military technicians who will operate the system are currently carrying out the final tests, the radio said. The radar system, which has a range of more than 2,000 kilometres, has been installed in the Negev desert in southern Israel.
Some 120 US troops have been deployed to Israel to set up and operate the system, public radio reported in late September. The US defence secretary Robert Gates agreed to the deployment after the Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak and army chief Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi made separate visits to Washington in July to discuss the perceived Iranian threat. It was formally announced by the Pentagon early last month.
Iran boasts a number of ballistic missiles with the range to hit targets in the Jewish state and both Israel and its US ally suspect Iran of seeking to develop a nuclear warhead under cover of its civilian nuclear programme. The two governments' concerns are expected to top the agenda of the outgoing Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert's White House talks with the US president George W Bush on Monday.
"The idea here is to help Israel create a layered missile defence capability to protect it from all sorts of threats in the region, near and far," a senior Pentagon official told AFP in late July. The so-called X-band radar system, also known as an AN/TPY2, is a powerful phased array radar that is designed to track ballistic missiles through space and provide ground-based missiles with the targeting data needed to intercept them.
The United States deployed a similar system to Japan in 2006 in response to a North Korean missile test. It plans to install a larger one in the Czech Republic. The Pentagon was scheduled to deploy the radar to Israel in the autumn of 2009 for a joint exercise but moved it up a year following the talks in Washington earlier this year. The system includes two massive radar antennae which have been under construction near the Dimona nuclear plant in the Negev.
The Maariv newspaper reported on Oct 5 that the two 400-metre-high masts being erected near the top-secret military plant where Israel is widely believed to have developed the only nuclear arsenal in the Middle East would be the largest in the region. Data from the radar will be provided to Israel's missile defence system, but it will remain owned and operated by the US military. Since the US-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, Israel has regarded Iran as its main strategic threat.