For the first time in Israel’s history, the United States Army has opened a permanent base on Israeli soil, flying the Stars and Stripes inside an IDF base.
“Due to the close cooperation between us and the American forces in the field of air defense, as well as the extensive experience accumulated by the Aerial Defense Division, it was decided that the first permanent base of the American Army would be established at the School of Air Defense,” Brig.-Gen Zvika Haimovitch, head of the IDF's Aerial Defense Division, stated on Monday.
“This is the first time that we have an American flag flying in an IDF base,” Haimovitch said following the “historic and exciting” inauguration of the American base attended by senior American officials such as the American Defense Attaché.
The base, Haimovitch stated, “represents the long-standing partnership, the strategic commitment between the armies and the militaries of our countries” and “adds another layer to the security of the State of Israel in defending the threats of rocket or missile fire.”
According to Haimovitch, several dozen American soldiers will be stationed at the permanent base in southern Israel, which the Americans and Israel have been working on for the past two years and will have all the facilities necessary for a permanent military presence.
The American soldiers, Haimovitch stressed, would be operating American systems, not Israeli ones.
While Haimovitch would not go into detail regarding whether or not the Americans would take part in any combat operations, he stated “it’s much more significant than that. There’s an American presence here, a military force, not civilians.”
Israel and the United States remain concerned that Iran has continued to work on both its nuclear program as well as its ballistic missile program despite international criticism.
Israel’s air defenses currently include the Iron Dome, designed to shoot down short-range rockets, and the Arrow system which intercepts ballistic missiles outside of the Earth’s atmosphere. The David’s Sling missile defense system is designed to intercept tactical ballistic missiles, medium- to long-range rockets, as well as cruise missiles fired at ranges between 40 to 300km.
In light of the growing missile threat, the two allies have worked together to develop several missile defense systems, including the Iron Dome which is one of the joint programs between Israel and the United States.
On Sunday the IDF opened a new Iron Dome battalion, adding additional defense capabilities to Israel’s air defense. “This is a puzzle with a lot of parts that adds more protection. These two moves, the American base and the establishment of the new battalion, bring more capabilities,” Haimovitch stated.
After a lengthy development process, and with the financial help of the United States, the Iron Dome went into service in April 2011 with its first battery placed near the southern Israeli city of Beersheba. It made its first interception of a grad rocket fired from the Gaza Strip just days later.
The Iron Dome is able to calculate when rockets will land in open areas, choosing not to intercept them, or towards civilian centers. It has since been used during two military operations against Hamas, and since its first deployment has intercepted roughly 85 percent of projectiles fired toward Israeli civilian centers, changing the face of battle between Israel and her enemies.
The Rafael-built system carries 24 pounds of explosives and can intercept an incoming projectile from four to 70 kilometers away and Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd., which produces the radar system for the Iron Dome system through its ELTA division, has reported sales of it to various armies around the world.
According to an August report by Defense News, Israel's state-owned Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, the main contractor of the Iron Dome system, and Raytheon, its US partner for Iron Dome production, are working to transform the Israeli interceptor into an American system to use for the defense of forward-deployed US forces.
"The minute that the US decides to procure Iron Dome, we will transfer all the knowledge and production file to Raytheon," Yosi Druker, head of Rafael's Air Superiority Systems division was quoted by Defense News as saying, adding that the system would be fully produced in the United States.
Israel continuously improves the technology behind the country’s anti-missile systems and last April the Israel Missile Defense Organization, responsible for the development of Israel’s multi-layered defense system in conjunction with Rafael, carried out a number of experiments using American-made components in the course of the missile interception tests for the first time.
The experiments, which were conducted in the south of the country, focused on the use of the "Tamir" interceptor, produced by both the United States and Israel, and its ability to intercept a number of targets fired simultaneously at different ranges.
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