29 Kislev 5774
5th Day of Hanukah
How a U.S. Radar Station in the Negev Affects a Potential Israel-Iran Clash
On a desert hilltop in the remote southwest of Israel stands a compelling argument against any notion that the Jewish state will launch an attack on Iran without the United States. The discreet complex atop Mt. Keren is a U.S. military installation, and the 100 U.S. service members who staff it are the only foreign troops stationed in Israel [except for these].
...The small, rectangular-shaped portable radar peeking around a concrete blast wall is so advanced it can see over the horizon, and so sensitive it can spot a softball tossed in the air from 2,900 miles away. (Tehran is a mere 1,000 miles away to the northeast.) On Mt. Keren, the X-band radar is indeed pointed northeast, toward Iran, where it could detect a Shahab-3 missile launched toward Israel just seconds into its flight — and six to seven minutes earlier than Israel would know from its own radar, called Green Pine.
...Six additional minutes increases by at least 60% the time Israeli officials would have to sound sirens that will send civilians scrambling into bomb shelters. It also substantially increases the chances of launching interceptors to knock down the incoming missile before it reaches Israel, ....
All this is possible, however, only if U.S. officials choose to share the information, because only Americans have eyes on the radar. And if it's difficult to imagine a U.S. commander-in-chief choosing to withhold an early warning that could save civilian lives of a close ally, both sides recognize that if the Iranian missiles were launched in retaliation for an Israeli air strike, the onus might be on the Israeli government that set such events in motion. In any event, military officials and outside analysts say that uncertainty can only inhibit any Israeli impulse to "go it alone."
...the chain of command is American....If their computers recognize an ascending fireball as a hostile missile launch, U.S. commanders may pass the information to their Israeli counterparts.
The entire system is of course built on the assumption that they will.
...the Israelis are keenly aware that, in this case, information is power, and Washington has the right to withhold it. "We share a lot, but there's a valve on the pipeline, and it's a one-way valve," says a Western military official involved in the program.
The workaday reality of the U.S. radar — it has been operating since 2009 — also undercuts the notion of Israel launching a surprise attack on Iran that would also take Washington unawares. Not only does it see all traffic at Israeli air bases, it would certainly detect any large scale or other unusual patterns, including preparations for a massive air assault. Allowing the Americans that capability was a trade-off Israeli officials conceded only grudgingly, as TIME reported when the radar installation was announced in 2008.
"It's about the United States hugging the Israelis," says an American missile expert outside of government. The intense military cooperation between Washington and Jerusalem, which both sides agree is the closest it's ever been, not only helps assure Israel's security. It also tethers Israel's military to the Pentagon.
...But the X-band radar installation offers both obvious advantages and what one Israeli official termed "golden handcuffs."