Last night I posted about DEBKA’s report on the deployment of FBX-T radar to Israel, and the insistence by the United States that the system remain under American operational control.
Carl in Jerusalem has confirmed via a second source that DEBKA’s story is essentially true, but some of the other details may be wrong — Japan and Poland are now reported to have received the same deal that the Israelis did:
Three weeks ago, I reported that the United States was going to link Israel to the FBX-T radar system, which would allow Israel approximately five minutes of additional warning time to shoot down Iranian missiles. Last night, DEBKA reported that the United States was insisting on maintaining strict control over the FBX-T system: It will be operated from a US base in Israel’s Negev desert by American technicians. DEBKA even speculated on the possibility that the US would be selective about the information that it shares with Israel.
I didn’t run this story last night because I was hesitant about using DEBKA as a sole source for such an explosive story (every blog that ran it last night was basing itself solely on DEBKA). I have now found a second source that says that the FBX-T will be solely operated by American troops. Curiously, the first sentence says the following:
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Sources in Israel have revealed that the FBX-T radar system, which Washington is proposing to position in Israel, will be operated entirely by American military personnel, to be stationed in a segregated location, off-limits to Israeli access (similar to the radar and missile bases in Poland and Czech Republic, and other US military bases worldwide).
My second source, Aviation Week, also confirms that the IDF is not happy about this arrangement.
Look, we have a problem. The problem is that the Green Pine radar that goes with the Arrow missile only detects incoming missiles at 800 kilometers. That’s not enough time to shoot down an incoming Iranian nuclear missile high enough in the atmosphere to avoid fallout. The American FBX system solves that problem by picking up incoming missiles from 2000 kilometers out. Given where Iran is in its nuclear development program, we need something like the FBX as soon as possible. In a perfect world, Israel would have developed its own FBX system. Our defense industry is certainly capable of doing so. But we — perhaps foolishly — placed our defense priorities elsewhere. Now, we are paying the price. Our choice is to take the radar on the American terms or go develop our own. Given those parameters, taking the radar is a wise move.
As Aviation Week notes, the Americans aren’t treating us any worse than they are treating Poland or the Czech Republic. For that matter, they’re not treating us any worse than Japan, which is at least as close an ally as we are.
Although Iran’s nuclear potential is an important consideration, American missile defense was originally designed to protect against Soviet missiles, and is still primary concerned with Russia’s nuclear weapons.
The current conflict in the Caucasus is the latest in a series of American encroachments on or near the borders of Russia. For half a millennium, ever since the Mongols and the Teutonic Knights were driven back, Russia has had reason to fear encirclement. With American troops and missile defense installations spread across its western and southern flanks, and in the islands to its east, Russia is responding in kind.
According to ANSAmed:
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is on a visit in Moscow today and tomorrow, expressed to Russia his support for the conflict in Georgia and said he was ready to receive in his territory the Russian missile systems Iskander as a response to the deploying of the USA ‘space shield’ in eastern Europe, news agency Interfax reported quoting an interview granted to daily Kommersant.
“In principle we say yes. We have not thought about it yet, nor have we been offered. In any case, all projects of this type must be studied by our military experts. When all is decided, we will make a public announcement,” he said answering Kommersant’s question about Syria’s possible availability.
Some years ago, Syria asked to purchase the Iskander systems from Russia, Assad reminded. “But that had nothing to do with the missile shield. Just Russia had offered to us various types of weapons to buy, and the Iskander question was raised among other requests. However in the context we speak of, we have not been asked anything of the kind”.
“Our position is of availability to the cooperation with Russia in whatever can consolidate its security,” Assad said. Moscow “must think of response measures if it finds itself trapped in a circle”. Assad has as a first point of his agenda the purchase of weapons. “Buying weapons is very important. Various obstacles however rise from time to time. Often bureaucratic, or regarding delays related to the production. Also financial problems are created at times. I think we should speed up”.
So how does the Iskander compare with American weaponry? According to Defense Update:
The Iskander Tactical Missile System is considered to be among the most advanced surface / surface missiles available today.
Iskander-E is the export version of the Iskander M (9M72) short-range ballistic missile currently in service with the Russian Armed Forces (known by NATO designation SS-26). An earlier version is the SS-21 Tochka/Scarab, which was extensively used by the Russian Army during the 2nd Chechnya war and during the conflict between Russia and Georgia in August 2008. The missile is designed for mobile, autonomous operation and is capable of striking point and area targets at ranges of 50 — 280 km. (The M version is believed to have a range of 400 km). Typical missions include the engagement of enemy fire support, such as MLRS and long range artillery, air defenses and missile defense assets, airfields, command, control and communications nodes and infrastructure targets.
Although the Iskander may not be in the same class as the latest American weapons, it would be a formidable addition to Bashar Assad’s arsenal, and a boost to his prestige. With an Iranian patron on one hand and a Russian one on the other, Syria would be able to play a stronger hand against Israel and the United States.
ANSAmed has this additional information:
The “working” visit of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Moscow today and tomorrow is the third in three years and has the purpose to strengthen the military cooperation which has linked the two countries since the end of the 1950s. Assad’s last official visit in the Russian capital was in December 2006, while the alliance between Damascus and Moscow dates back to 1957 when the Soviet Union of Nikita Khrushchev signed with the Syrian authorities the first treaty for economic cooperation. Ever since the two countries have maintained always cordial relations, overcoming important turns such as the dissolution of the USSR and, ten years later, the passing of the power in Damascus from father Hafez to son Bashar.
In 1979 the Soviet military experts in Syrian increased from 2,500 to 4,000 and the Syrian arsenal boasted then a high level of sophistication capable of competing the Israeli weapons. With the new course undertaken by Mikhail Gorbachev, starting from the end-1980s, Damascus understood it could not rely anymore on Moscow’s support as it once did. For Damascus, after Israel and Turkey signed a military cooperation agreement in 1996, an approaching to Moscow was necessary to ensure a wider room for diplomatic manoeuvre. And for the Russians the “Syrian card” seemed then — and still seems today — the most suitable to try to enter the Middle East game again.
As many people have noted, the Russians play a skilled game of geopolitical chess. With American pawns pushing close to their frontiers, the Russians are now moving a knight into Syria and a bishop all the way to Cuba.
Unfortunately for us, we’re not even playing the same game as the Russians. As Spengler recently noted:
Think of it this way: Russia is playing chess, while the Americans are playing Monopoly. What Americans understand by “war games” is exactly what occurs on the board of the Parker Brothers’ pastime. The board game Monopoly is won by placing as many hotels as possible on squares of the playing board. Substitute military bases, and you have the sum of American strategic thinking.
There’s more than a grain of truth to this. What strategic ends are being served by our overt challenge to Russian interests in the Caucasus and elsewhere? Are we trying to engineer a live-fire test of our missile defense components?
Perhaps there’s a grand strategy in all this. Maybe our leaders in the White House and the Pentagon know something that the rest of us don’t know. Perhaps there are dire contingencies forcing our hand which ordinary mortals are not privileged to be aware of. Maybe all of this somehow makes sense.
But I doubt it. I think it’s more likely we’re blundering into a dark room holding a rake in front of us, confident that it will somehow be enough to fend off the lumbering behemoth that awaits us there in the gloom.
Hat tip for the ANSAmed articles: Insubria.