Washington insisted on tight secrecy for the week-long US-Israeli Juniper Cobra exercise which ended in the southern Israeli Negev desert Tuesday, March 20
(See debkafile‘s exclusive rundown on the maneuver in HOT POINTS below)
Nonetheless, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military experts reveal the exercise’s four salient points:
1. The US has designated the Israeli-made Arrow anti-missile missile system and its Green Pine radar the first line in its defensive shield against Iranian ballistic missiles. Any incoming missile would have to first outmaneuver the Israeli system located in the Negev before reaching the Europe-based links – 10 interceptors, which Washington plans for Poland and a radar station projected for the Czech Republic – and possibly Georgia too.
The American and Israeli anti-missile deployments are to be integrated to create an inter-operational multilayered air defense system by 2013.
To make this happen, Washington will sink another $1 billion in the Israeli technology on top of the $2.8 billion already invested.
2. The US-Israeli missile defense network is designed not only to intercept Iranian ballistic missiles of 1,300-1,500 km range fired at Europe, but also the short-range Iskander-E short-range ballistic missiles, which Russia has sold to Syria and is ready to hand out to any other Middle East nation.
This decision was taken after it was discovered that the Iskander-E is designed to outfight key Western ballistic missile defenses, particularly the Patriot Advanced Capability PAC-2/3 low-to-high altitude air-defense system.
The Iskander-E is the export version of the Kolomna-designed 9M72 short-range ballistic missile in current service with the Russian army. Its range is shorter – 280 km compared with the 9M72’s 400 km.
The weapon is essentially an improved version of the old Soviet Scud plus the latest advances in propulsion, guidance and computerized systems. The Iskanders are therefore easier to deploy, faster to fire and more accurate than the Scuds, relics of WWII technology, ever were.
Syria‘s Iskander-E poses threat comparable to Iranian ballistic missiles
The Iskander-E‘s pinpoint accuracy and short preparation time are seen by the US and Israel as posing a greater threat than its range or payload. For the first time, Syria has a missile with a solid propellant capable of mounting an effective surprise attack on the Air Force bases and military command centers of northern and central Israel, though not the south – a far cry from the Scud with its liquid propellant and lengthy and clumsy launch preparations.
With a CEP (Circular Error Probable: a measure of missile accuracy) of a few meters, individual aircraft shelters and high value military installations could be effectively targeted.
The Iskander might well encourage Damascus to believe that a surprise attack against US bases in Iraq, Israel and Turkey could be successful.
3. The United States and Israel therefore have more in mind than a defense system against an Iranian ballistic threat to Europe. They do not rule out Moscow’s potential for one day creating the same kind of integrated missile and missile defense system with Iran and or Syria, as the one the US has formed with Israel.
During his Middle East tour in February Russian president Vladimir Putin made no secret of his challenge to American superpower status in the Arab world by offers of advanced weapons sales, nuclear technology and diplomatic espousal.
To re-establish Russian positions in the Middle East, Putin is wooing both radical and conservative governments, Sunni and Shiite alike. Rather than demanding they improve their human rights standards, the Russian president offered to act as a bridge between rival camps.
The Russian president invited all and sundry to follow Syria’s example and shop for Russian missiles.
The Juniper Cobra exercise of March 2007, the fourth of the two-yearly series, was meant as a discreet signal to Moscow, as well as to its past and future customers – especially Syria – that even before their deployment, the Russian-made missiles on sale have already been outmaneuvered by the US defense systems in position to shoot them down.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Moscow sources report that the Kremlin and top Russian brass greeted the signal with fury. They perceive the Negev maneuver as an American move to check Russia’s drive for restored Middle East status and spoil its weapons export trade.
For weeks now, Moscow has been blasting American plans to deploy anti-missile interceptors in Poland and radar in the Czech Republic as a threat to Russia.
The greatest suspicion is aroused by the future US radar station in the Czech Republic, which the Russians fear will keep military movements inside Russia, including missile deployment, under surveillance.
They have responded with a threat to equip Russia’s European embassies with systems capable of following US and NATO movements in the continent. It was spelled out Monday, March 19, by Col. Gen. Vladimir Popovkin, commander of Russia’s Space Forces.
Moscow threatens to post optical monitoring systems at embassies to monitor US launches
He said space monitoring systems in Russian embassy compounds in several countries would track the launches of ballistic missiles abroad. In an interview to the Pace Technology News magazine, Popovkin said quantum-optical equipment posted at the embassies would pick up launches undetectable from Russian territory and adjust the trajectories of missile “killer vehicles” to a potential threat.
The Russian general accused the Americans of seeking not just a missile shield against Iran but the means of monitoring all ballistic missile launches in the European part of Russia and from Northern Fleet submarines, and knocking them out as soon as they take off.
“If the United States genuinely wanted protection from Iranian missiles, those defenses would have been stationed in Turkey, also a NATO member,” Popovkin said.
The Russian general was venting his masters’ anger rather than brandishing a practicable counter-measure to offset the American missile shield plan which Moscow is helpless to scarper, beyond declaring: We too can monitor your missiles.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources comment that defenses based in Turkey would only cover missile launches from northern Iran and only protect southern Europe. They would not block attacks from southern Iran against Israel.
4. But the Juniper Cobra exercise was no idyll either.
It brought to the surface the discord marring the military and diplomatic relations between Washington and Jerusalem in consequence of the Bush administration’s disappointment with Israel’s handling of the Lebanon war of summer 2006.
When the American and Israel planning teams met some months before the war to prepare Juniper Cobra 200, they discussed an exercise on a far larger scale than this month’s operation, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources report. After the war, Washington cooled to a high-profile war game. Israeli military’s scenarios for the joint exercise were turned down and US generals brought their own format on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.
New ways of dealing with missiles carrying nuclear, chemical or biological warheads were therefore practiced according to American – not Israeli – military concepts. The Israel generals went along with this. But a military source leaked a story to the Israeli tabloid Maariv claiming that the Bush administration had suspended joint operational planning for a potential military strike against Iran.
US-Israeli missile defense integration amid low ebb in relations
What Juniper Cobra demonstrated was that Washington was not even willing to work with Israel on a shield against Iranian and Russian missiles.
All in all, DEBKA-Net-Weekly concludes, Washington has taken a vote of no-confidence in Israel’s present political and military leadership. Instead of the old relaxed give and take, the Bush administration is holding Israel undeviatingly to the straight and narrow US military and diplomatic path in the Middle East.
Both sides are putting a good face on the situation in public, neither mentioning the low ebb in the relationship. But omissions say it all.
On Feb. 27, John Rood, US assistant secretary for international security and non-proliferation, spoke in general about American-Israeli cooperation in defense against missiles in an address to the 8th Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) Missile Defense Conference.
He commented: “The rationale for such deployments as detailed in US Defense Department analysis has concluded that Poland and the Czech Republic are the good locations to provide protection for much of Europe and the United States from the evolving Middle East ballistic missile threat. Assuming our negotiations are successful, we hope to begin major construction in these countries in 2008 and to begin missile defense operations by 2012. These missile defense assets would be integrated with existing radars in Fylingdales, UK and Thule, Greenland, as well as the US ground-based mid-course defense system consisting of, for example, existing missile defense interceptors located in California and Alaska.
Fylingdales in Yorkshire is a long-range radar station, which forms part of the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) and Space Surveillance Network (SSN). Fylingdales was the third and last of the BMEWS “golfball” stations to be built during the Cold War. The first two are at Thule, Greenland and Clear, Alaska.
Officials in Jerusalem noted that John Rood, while listing America’s missile monitoring assets everywhere else, carefully omitted mention of the Israel-made Arrow’s Green Pine radar system and its integration in the US chain of defenses for Europe as the first line of defense against Iran’s ballistic missiles.