BY MATTHEW KALMAN
SPECIAL TO THE NEWS
Sunday, September 28th 2008
JERUSALEM - The United States has stationed 120 American troops and an early-warning radar system in Israel - marking the first permanent U.S. military presence there.
Soldiers and technicians from the U.S. European Command flew to the Nevatim military base in the Negev Desert last Sunday, bringing with them advanced radar systems designed to help protect Israel against a potential ballistic missile attack from Iran, according to the weekly Defense News.
Once operational, the system is expected to double or even triple the range at which Israel could detect, track and ultimately intercept Iranian missiles, Lt. Gen. Henry Obering, director of the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency, told Defense News.
The Forward Based X-Band Transportable Radar will be linked to U.S. satellite tracking stations and Israel's Arrow-2 defensive rocket system, enabling the Israelis to detect and destroy any incoming Iranian missile before it enters Israeli air space.
Japan deployed the same system two years ago to detect potential missiles launched from North Korea.
The U.S. European Command has deployed troops and Patriot air defenses for joint exercises and Iraq-related wartime planning, but has never before permanently deployed troops on Israeli soil, according to Defense News.
"This is a major upgrade in bilateral preparations for the threats facing Israel," an Israeli defense official said.
A British newspaper reported Friday that President Bush refused to okay a preemptive strike by Israel against Iran's fledgling nuclear facilities.
In Israel, the X-Band is seen as a consolation prize.
Iranian state TV has reported testing of its Shehab-3 long-range ballistic missile, which is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead 1,242 miles - more than far enough to hit Tel Aviv.
At a recent military parade in Tehran, banners adorning six Shehab-3 missiles declared: "Israel must be wiped off the map," and "We will crush America under our feet."
The United Nations recently renewed economic sanctions against Iran designed to halt its nuclear program and stop Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Israeli leaders fear that a nuclear Iran, driven by its violently anti-Jewish leaders, will try to destroy Israel.