A Patriot anti-missile system deployed in a joint U.S. and Israeli military outpost in Jaffa, south of Tel Aviv is silhouetted against the setting sun.
(photo credit: NIR ELIAS / REUTERS)
The United States is removing US missile defense systems from the Middle East next month, just days after Russia announced it would supply the S-300 to Syria.
According to a report by The Wall Street Journal that quoted several senior military officials, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis decided to pull four Patriot missile systems from Jordan, Kuwait and Bahrain “in a realignment of forces and capabilities, as the military steps up its focus on threats from China and Russia.”
Both Russia and China are said to be working to upgrade their cruise and ballistic missiles with Mach-5 hypersonic weapons able to evade American air defense systems.
While some Patriot systems will remain in the region, the officials quoted by the Journal
said that the removal of two systems from Kuwait and one each from Jordan and Bahrain, with no plans for them to be replaced, would be a “major drawdown” of the system’s capabilities in the tense region.
While US Central Command officials wouldn’t comment on the moves, a spokesman for the Command in Florida, Capt. Bill Urban, was quoted as saying, “US forces remain postured to conduct operations throughout the region and to respond to any contingency. US Central Command is strongly committed to working with our allies and partners to promote and provide regional security and stability.”
On Monday Russia announced it would supply an S-300 air defense missile system to Syria within two weeks as a response to the downing of an Ilyushin military plane over the war-torn country last week during an Israeli air strike against Iranian targets.
Both Israel and the United States have warned against the supply of the S-300, which according to Russia’s Kommersant newspaper would see four batteries sent to Syria in the next two weeks and another possible six to eight sent at a later date.
Israel has multiple times warned against Iran’s continuing entrenchment in Syria and ongoing smuggling of advanced weaponry such as precision missile components to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The deployment of air defense systems like Patriot batteries allows American troops deployed in the Middle East and its allies to defend against ballistic and cruise missiles.
Israel has three Patriot system batteries and has used them against suspicious aerial vehicles, most recently shooting down a Syrian Sukhoi fighter jet that infiltrated into Israel’s northern Golan Heights in July.
The other air defense systems used by Israel include the Iron Dome, designed to shoot down short-range rockets, the Arrow system, which intercepts ballistic missiles outside of the Earth’s atmosphere, and the David’s Sling missile defense system, designed to intercept tactical ballistic missiles, medium- to long-range rockets, as well as cruise missiles.
Both 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 and new US sanctions placed on Iran meant to pressure it over its military activity in the Middle East and its ballistic missile program.
The Islamic Republic possesses over 1,000 short- and medium-range ballistic missiles and has the ability to proliferate weapons to countries and non-state actors such as Hezbollah and Hamas. Iran recently unveiled a new generation of short-range Fateh missiles called Al-Mobeen or “The Divine Conquest,” which is said to have a range of 300-500 km.
Washington and Israel have signed an agreement that would see the US come to assist Israel with missile defenses in times of war, and in September the first US base in Israel was inaugurated in the south of the country. The “base within a base” is run by the United States European Command, or EUCOM, and includes barracks, offices and support services.
The two allies also carried out an extensive aerial drill in early March. The ninth annual Juniper Cobra drill saw the participation of more than 2,500 US troops deployed in Europe alongside 2,000 Israeli aerial defense troops, logistics units, medical forces and additional IDF units.
“We are ready to commit to the defense of Israel, and anytime we get involved in a kinetic fight there is always the risk that there will be casualties. But we accept that – as every conflict we train for and enter – there is always that possibility,” said US Air Force Third Air Force Commander Lt.-Gen. Richard M. Clark during the drill.
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