By Yaakov Lappin/JNS.org
Amidst Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s declaration that the U.S.-Israel alliance has “never been stronger,” the two countries recently made history by opening of the first permanent American military base on Israeli soil.
The base, which is located inside the headquarters of the Israeli Air Force (IAF) Air Defense School in southern Israel, will house dozens of U.S. military personnel who make up a task force designed to assist Israel’s air defense missions, IDF Spokesman Lt.-Col. Jonathan Conricus said.
“[The American military] will assist and improve the ability of the state of Israel and IDF’s air defenses,” Conricus told JNS.org. “They will strengthen the IDF’s defensive capabilities” and their assistance would be continuous and felt during “routine times.”
The task force will also help Israel “improve detection, interception and deployment in aerial defense while strengthening cooperation,” Brig.-Gen. Tzvika Haimovich, commander of the IAF’s Air Defense Array, said. “This extends to day-to-day life for the task force as well – the American facility is a U.S. military zone that will operate under IDF guidelines and regulations.”
The close ties between Washington and Jerusalem that forged the base opening were apparent earlier this week when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with President Donald Trump in New York to discuss key issues, ahead of the United National General Assembly. After the meeting, Netanyahu said, “I want to say that under your [Trump’s] leadership the alliance between America and Israel has never been stronger, never been deeper.”
The committed partnership of both countries is key to enabling the U.S. base to function smoothly in an Israeli military facility, Haimovich said, adding, “I appreciate the way the Americans respect the state of Israel.”
Establishing the base is really a continuation of the long trend of U.S.-Israeli military cooperation, the IDF spokesman said.
“What we are seeing here is an expression of this alliance tightening, its power, and the level of commitment by both sides. This is the first time that U.S. [military] will be present here permanently,” Conricus said.
Maj. Gen. Josh Gronski, deputy commanding general for the U.S. Army National Guard, during a visit to the base, said that he believes it “symbolizes the strong bond that exists between the United States and Israel.”
Jewish groups in the U.S. were supportive of the new military base opening, with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations calling the development “historic.”
“We welcome the first-ever permanent U.S. military base in Israel that will improve the ability of military personnel from both countries to work side-by-side every day,” said the group’s president, Stephen M. Greenberg, and Executive Vice Chairman and CEO, Malcolm Hoenlein, in a joint statement.
Situated at the Masha’vei Sade base south of Beersheba, the new base will house a few large-size tents to accommodate dozens of American military personnel. Several hundred Israeli military personnel are housed at the facility as well.
The IAF’s Air Defense Array was once known as the anti-aircraft branch but has since changed its name to reflect its modern mission, which has evolved from focusing on shooting down enemy aircraft to intercepting enemy rockets and missiles.
The Lebanese terror group Hezbollah is estimated to possess around 120,000 projectiles in Lebanon, while the Palestinian terror group Hamas is producing thousands of projectiles in Gaza. Iran is believed to have hundreds of ballistic missiles that place Israel in striking distance.
In February 2016, the U.S. and Israel militaries held a first-of-its-kind missile defense drill involving six air defense systems in a single, computer-simulated exercise.
The drill was part of the Juniper Cobra joint exercise, where 1,700 U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps personnel trained alongside 1,500 IDF personnel. During the exercises, the U.S. European Command linked its Aegis, THAAD, and Patriot air defense networks with Israel’s Arrow 3, David’s Sling and Iron Dome systems.
Meanwhile, a new development marking the evolution of Israel’s air defenses took place when the IAF, in recent days, deployed a second Iron Dome battalion, Lt.-Col. Cornicus said.
Iron Dome is designed to intercept short- to medium-range rockets and was used heavily during Israel’s conflict with Gaza in the summer of 2014 to defend Israeli cities from projectile attacks launched from Gaza.
Cornicus said the two Iron Dome battalions will “provide us with more flexibility and a smarter division between northern and southern fronts.”
The creation of the second battalion is a result of lessons learned from the 2014 conflict, and an assessment of “the different threats we face, and will face in the future,” he said. “There is a wide range of threats facing the state of Israel,” he said. “We need a comprehensive reply for them.”