For the first time, the US 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 Haimovich, head of the Aerial Defense Division, said on Monday.
“This is the first time that we have an American flag flying in an IDF base,” Haimovich said, following the “historic and exciting” inauguration of the base attended by the US defense attaché and other senior military officials.
The base, Haimovich said, “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 [against]the threats of rocket or missile fire.”
Several dozen American soldiers will be stationed at the base in Israel’s south, which America and Israel have been working on for two years, and will have all the facilities necessary for a permanent presence, Haimovich said. The American soldiers, Haimovich stressed, will operate US systems, not Israeli ones.
While he would not go into detail regarding whether or not the Americans would take part in any combat operations, Haimovich said “it’s much more significant than that. There’s an American presence here, a military force, not civilians.”
Both countries remain concerned that Iran has continued to work on its nuclear program as well as its ballistic missile program.
In light of the growing 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 US.
Israel’s air defenses currently include the Iron Dome, designed to shoot down short-range rockets, the Arrow system, which intercepts ballistic missiles outside of the atmosphere, and the David’s Sling missile defense system, which is designed to intercept tactical ballistic missiles, medium- to long-range rockets, as well as cruise missiles fired at ranges between 40 km and 300 km away.
On Sunday, the IDF inaugurated a new Iron Dome battalion. “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,” Haimovich said.
After a lengthy development process, and with the financial help of the US, the Iron Dome went into service in April 2011, with its first battery placed near Beersheba. It made its first interception, of a Grad rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, days later.
The Iron Dome is able to calculate when rockets will strike in open areas, in which case it chooses not to intercept them, or toward civilian centers. It has since been used during two wars against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and since its first deployment has intercepted roughly 85% of projectiles fired toward Israeli civilian centers, changing the face of battle.
The Rafael-built system’s interceptors carry 11 kg of explosives and can intercept an incoming projectile from 4 to 70 km away. Israel Aerospace Industries, which produces the radar system for the Iron Dome system through its ELTA division, has reported sales of it to militaries 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 platform into an American system to use for the defense of forward-deployed US forces.
“The minute that the US decides to procure the 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 US.
Israel is continuously improving the technology behind its anti-missile systems. 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 missile interception tests for the first time.
The experiments, which were conducted in the South, focused on the use of the Tamir interceptor, produced by both the US and Israel, and its ability to intercept a number of enemy projectiles that were fired simultaneously from different ranges.