TEL AVIV, Israel — U.S. and Israeli officers broke ground in Israel on Monday for a permanent U.S. Army base that will house dozens of U.S. soldiers, operating under the American flag, and charged with the mission of defending against rocket and missile attack.
The American base, officers in Israel say, will be an independent facility co-located at the Israel Defense Forces Air Defense School in southern Israel, near the desert capital of Beersheba. Once completed, the base will house U.S. operational systems to identify and intercept a spectrum of aerial threats, along with barracks, recreational and other facilities required to support several dozen American air defenders.
“A few dozens of soldiers of our American allies will be stationed here permanently. They are part of an American task force that will be stationed here,” said Israeli Air Force Brig. Gen. Zvika Haimovich, the IDF‘s air defense commander.
According to Haimovich, the co-located, permanent U.S. presence will enhance Israel’s ability to detect and defend against the growing rocket and missile threat. “The purpose of their presence is not for training or for exercises, but rather as part of a joint Israeli and American effort to sustain and enhance our defensive capabilities.”
Maj. Gen. John Gronski, deputy commanding general of the Army National Guard in U.S. Army Europe, led the U.S. delegation participating in Sept. 18 ceremonies.
Referring to the site as Site 883 Life Support Area, Gronski said the planned base “signifies the strong bond” that exists between the United States and Israel.
“This life support area represents the first ever stationing of a U.S. Army unit on Israeli soil,” he said. “The U.S. and Israel have long planned together, exercised together, trained together. And now, with the opening of this site, these crucial interactions will occur every day. We’ll have Israeli airmen, US soldiers living and working side by side.”
While the new U.S. base marks the first to be co-located within an Israeli base and the first in which active interceptors are to be deployed, the U.S. military has operated an independent facility for nearly a decade in the same general area of Israel’s Negev desert. That facility — which is operated only by Americans without an Israeli presence — houses the U.S. AN/TPY-2, an X-Band radar that is integrated with Israeli search and track radars to augment early warning in the event of ballistic missile attack from Iran.
In his briefing to reporters, Haimovich said the IDF has been working with its U.S. counterparts for nearly two years to establish the new facility. He emphasized that the American presence “would not hamper the IDF‘s ability to act independently against any threat to the security of the State of Israel.”
He also noted that in recent weeks, the IDFs Air Defense Command stood up a new Iron Dome battalion to enable the Jewish state to more equitably deploy active defenses along its northern as well as southern borders, where Israel faces growing threats from Lebanon and Gaza, respectively.
One of Israel’s operational Iron Dome systems is now in the U.S., where it is competing with U.S.-proposed systems for an interim — and possibly longer-term — solution to the medium- and short-range air defense requirement.
Opall-Rome is Israel bureau chief for Defense News. She has been covering U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation, Mideast security and missile defense since May 1988. She lives north of Tel Aviv. Visit her website at www.opall-rome.com.