US Promises Israel Warning of Iranian Missiles from Its Turkey-Based Radar Station
The US tried to clear away a major Israeli security concern this week by sending a senior American official over with assurances that the advanced X-band AN/TPY-2 radar station US military and civilian teams began operating this month at the EastTurkish Kurecik air base would relay to Israel data picked up on threatening Iranian missile and troop movements.
The Turkey-based station would, furthermore, work in harness with its twin, the US X-band station on Mount Keren in the Israeli Negev opposite the Egyptian border.
Those assurances came in response to Israel's second expression of concern in recent weeks, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military and Washington sources report. In January, Israel complained discreetly to the Obama administration that the Saudi Air Force would outnumber and outclass the Israeli Air Force after it received the 84 American F-15 SA fighter planes sold the oil kingdom under a big new arms deal. (See debkafile Jan. 25)
That concern is still unaddressed and likely to stay that way, given the paramount US regional and economic interest in seeing the transaction through.
The Turkish issue was a different matter.
It arose when Israel quietly asked for the Obama administration to clarify a guarantee Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu gave Iranian leaders on January 5 during a visit to Tehran that the American X-band station in Turkey, 400 kilometers from their border, was not directed against their nuclear facilities or ballistic missiles. In any case, said the minister, Ankara had received its own guarantees from Washington that the data gathered by the Turkish-based radar station would be withheld from Israel and therefore unavailable for use in potential Israeli aerial or missile attacks on Iran.
Davutoglu went on to inform his Iranian hosts that Washington had agreed to a Turkish general supervising intelligence-gathering at the radar station and he would have the final say on who gets the data.
After the visit, a senior Turkish source said: “We made clear that this is a purely defensive [system] against any ballistic threat.”
Tehran is not placated by Turkish guarantees
The message the Turkish minister carried to Tehran, therefore, was that the US X-band radar station at Kurecik air base would be restricted to guarding against Iranian missile attacks on NATO members – not Israel and, furthermore, it would not be permitted to collect intelligence from inside Iran.
Even so, Tehran was not placated. On January 12, Iranian Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani paid a visit to Ankara. He was not pleased with his talks there, judging from his remark: “The US radar stationed in Turkey is no good for any Muslim country” – i.e. neither Iran nor Turkey. He even hinted that the American facility was placed to gather data not just there but also for surveillance in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.
Our sources report that following these Turkish-Iranian exchanges, Israel asked Washington to clarify three points:
1. Is it true that a Turkish general will be in charge of the American radar station and empowered to veto the transfer of incoming data to Israel?
2. If that is the case, will that Turkish general have access to the intelligence gathered by the US radar station on Mount Keren in the southern Israeli Negev, with the risk of it leaking to Tehran?
Turkey must not have access to Israel's military movements
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources say that Israel fears sensitive intelligence reaching Turkish hands on two grounds:
– The US-operated radar station in the Negev is an open window to the slightest movement in Israeli air space. It would pick up any prospective Israeli air force or missile deployment for an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. Not only would Washington receive advance warning in real time of an impending strike, so too would Ankara. This Israel is determined to prevent.
– It is also essential to keep Turkey from tapping into Israeli army, air force and navy's movements aside from any Iran-related operations.
3. Israel also asked if the American radar station in Turkey is operating under the same conditions as its Israel-based counterpart.
When the US X-band station was installed in southern Israel in 2008, Jerusalem agreed to it being exclusively operated by American military and civilian personnel. The site was declared an exterritorial US enclave out of bounds to Israeli officers without American permission.
If the US allowed the Turkey-based facility to be accessible to Turkish military personnel, then Israel wanted the rules for the Negev station changed accordingly.
Our sources report that Israel raised all these concerns during the visit of Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint US Chiefs of staff on Jan. 19-20.
Failing satisfactory answers, Israel would consider closing down the US Negev radar
Without saying so explicitly, Israeli leaders made it clear that if Washington failed to supply satisfactory answers to the three questions, they would consider closing down the US X-band radar station on Mount Keren. The resulting hole would be large enough to sink the entire missile shield system the United States is building for the Persian Gulf and Europe.
A high-ranking US security official was therefore sent to Israel this week with assurances. Although Monday, Jan. 30, he agreed to talk to journalists, he decided later to stay anonymous. His principle mission was to allay Israel's concerns by refuting the Turkish foreign minister's account in Tehran about the way the X-band radar station is managed at the Kurecik air base.
“That radar is exclusively operated by US personnel, exactly as it is here," said the American official. "We will control the data and fuse it with data from other radars in the region to generate the most comprehensive and effective missile defense picture,” he said. He went on to vigorously deny Turkish reports that Ankara had imposed as a precondition restrictions on data-sharing with non-NATO nations, particularly Israel.
Responding to the possibility of US radar facilities being used to support an Israel strike on Iran, raised in the Turkish-Iranian dialogue, the US official remarked: “The Turkish-deployed radar is facing the wrong direction to be of much help to Israel. In fact, the opposite is really true. Our radar here in Israel helps Turkey… Bottom line, it’s in all of our interests to have an American radar 400 kilometers from the Iranian border.”
The official was clearly trying to reassure Israel – and at the same time Turkey and Iran. It is far from certain he succeeded.