The U.S. has provided Israel with an advanced radar system that will give it early warning in case of an Iranian missile attack, Israeli officials said Sunday, confirming a new defense tool in what is potentially the Mideast's deadliest feud.
Israel considers Iran its biggest threat, a view reinforced by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's repeated calls for the destruction of the Jewish state.
The radar system, to be run by some 120 accompanying U.S. military personnel, was delivered last week, the Israeli defense officials said. It has been set up temporarily at the Nevatim air base in the Negev desert and will likely be moved to a permanent site in the next few months, they said.
The officials agreed to confirm a U.S. magazine's report that the radar had been delivered only if they were not quoted by name because the Israeli government had not announced the deal.
The Israeli military wound not confirm or deny the report.
"For years, the Israel Defense Forces have carried on strategic cooperation with the arms of the U.S. military. This cooperation is conducted in different ways as a matter of routine. As a rule, we do not detail content related to these channels of cooperation between the militaries," it said.
Defense News, the weekly that first reported the system's deployment, identified it as a high-powered radar known as FBX-T and said it will be linked to the U.S. military's Joint Tactical Ground Station.
The system, assisted by satellites, can pick up a ballistic missile shortly after launch and estimate the time and location of its impact. Those capabilities will cut the response time of Israel's Arrow anti-missile defense system, which currently works with a less advanced radar.
The new radar will give Israel an advantage but "is not something that changes the game," said Avi Schnurr, who heads the Israel Missile Defense Association.
How much of an advantage the system provides depends on factors such as where incoming missiles are launched, he said. "When you have longer-range acquisition, you have more opportunity to launch your own missiles earlier, to acquire, track and engage an incoming missile," he said.
Schnurr said it would take a missile "several minutes" to reach Israel from Iran.
Ephraim Kam, an analyst at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies, called the new radar an "important addition" to Israel's defense.
The Arrow's current radar, known as Green Pine, can pick up incoming missiles only 500 to 600 miles away, he said. The new system has a range of around 1,200 miles, giving Israel vital minutes to respond by launching interceptors.
The distance from Iran to Israel is about 700 miles.
Better defense for Israel
Kam said the U.S. is sending a message with the new system that "they are against any attack by Israel on Iran's nuclear facilities at this time but cannot leave us without protection."
At the same time, he said, the radar will allow Israel to better defend itself against retaliation if the U.S. or Israel should decide to strike Iran — an ambiguity intended to make Tehran think about its actions.
Israel, the U.S. and other nations believe Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons. Israel sees an Iranian bomb as an existential threat, given Ahmadinejad's calls for Israel's destruction and his regime's aggressive development of long-range missiles.
Iran denies it is working on atomic bombs, saying its nuclear program has only the peaceful purposes of using nuclear reactors to generate electricity.
Israel and the U.S. both say they prefer to use diplomatic pressure to try to curb Iran's nuclear program, urging the U.N. Security Council to adopt tougher sanctions against Tehran.
But neither country has ruled out the use of force against Iranian nuclear facilities, and Israel has signaled it is preparing for a possible strike.
The Israeli military has bought 90 F-16I fighter-bombers that can reach Iran and is to receive 11 more by the end of 2009. It also has bought two new Dolphin-class submarines from Germany reportedly capable of firing nuclear-armed missiles — in addition to the three it already has.
Sixth-largest stockpile of nukes
Over the summer, Israel's air force carried out long-range maneuvers in the Mediterranean. The exercise touched off an international debate over whether it was a dress rehearsal for an imminent attack on Iran, a stern warning to Tehran or a way to get allies to step up pressure on Iran.
Further upping the ante, Israel is widely believed to be a nuclear power. Foreign experts believe Israel has the world's sixth-largest stockpile of nuclear weapons, including hundreds of warheads.
Under its policy of "nuclear ambiguity," Israel neither confirms nor denies whether it has a nuclear weapons.