Barak: U.S. to provide Israel with defense systems against Iran strike
Defense Min. announces U.S. pledge after Washington talks; Barak: Israel not ruling out strike on Iran.
The United States will soon link Israel up to two advanced missile detection systems as a precaution against any future attack by a nuclear-armed Iran, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Tuesday.
The allies are also in advanced talks on upgrading Israel's Arrow II ballistic shield, though they disagree over whether it should incorporate an American interceptor missile, Barak said after meeting U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Washington has been leading efforts to curb Iran's atomic ambitions through sanctions, mindful of Israel's threats to resort to military strikes if it deems diplomacy a dead end.
Barak told reporters that the Israeli and U.S. governments "see eye to eye on the need to keep all options on the table ... though we may not agree on each and every detail."
"It's important the Americans understand our position, and I think that they understand it a lot better after this visit," said Barak, who was one of the more vocal Israeli critics of a U.S. intelligence report last year that concluded Iran had shelved a military nuclear program in 2003.
Barak declined to give details on whether Israel, which is believed to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal, would be prepared to take on Iran alone. Iran denies seeking atomic weapons and has vowed to retaliate for any attack.
The dispute has fed speculation in the global financial markets about a possible confrontation between Iran and Israel or the United States. That helped push oil prices to record highs earlier this month.
Signaling willingness to focus on defensive measures, Barak said he had secured the Pentagon's agreement to post a powerful radar, known as the forward-based X-band, in Israel "before the new (U.S.) administration arrives" in January.
Built by Raytheon Co, the system has been described by U.S. officials as capable of tracking an object the size of a baseball from about 2,900 miles (4,700 km) away. It would let the Arrow engage an Iranian Shehab-3 ballistic missile about halfway through what would be its 11-minute flight to Israel.
The X-Band radar system is the same as the one the United States plans to base in the Czech Republic as part of a missile defense system to protect allies in Europe.
The United States also discussed possibly providing Israel with access to missile launch data.
A senior U.S. defense official confirmed the United States was looking to deploy the X-band system to Israel.
"We're stationing our system there so it may benefit them," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity when discussing high-level talks.
Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said: "Like the Israelis, we see the Iranians racing to build a ballistic missile capability and so we are working to help the Israelis fortify their defenses as quickly as possible."
Barak said the United States will also increase Israel's access to its Defense Support Program (DSP) satellites, which spot missile launches. Israeli officials say past access to the DSP has been on a per-request, rather than constant, basis.
"In a few months, Israel will be stronger and more prepared in the realm of protection against long-distance threats," he said.
Israel announced last year that Arrow, a project funded largely by the United States, would be upgraded. The envisaged Arrow-III would be capable of shooting down missiles at greater atmospheric heights - a safeguard against nuclear fallout.
Israeli and U.S. officials this month voiced differing assessments on when Iran might acquire advanced S-300 anti-aircraft systems from Russia. The S-300s would complicate any preemptive air strikes on Iran's nuclear sites.
Gates said in a July 9 briefing that the systems would not be in Iranian hands "any time soon" while Israeli defense officials, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, predicted first delivery of the systems as early as September.
Pentagon press secretary Morrell said Gates was referring to a complete, deployable system reaching Iran - which does not preclude the possibility of ancillary equipment arriving sooner.
Morrell said last week the Pentagon did not expect Iran to have the system this year.
Iran announced in December that it would buy an unspecified number of S-300s. Russia denied that there was any such deal.
Gates said Tuesday that the Bush administration was prepared to consider upgrading Israel's missile defense capabilities.
Gates told Barak that the U.S. would explore a number of options including ballistic missile early warning launch data, a forward based X-Band radar system, other missile defense assets, and counter measures to short-range rocket and mortar attacks.
Barak is considering purchasing or borrowing several Phalanx automated cannons from the United States. The cannons intercept incoming mortar shells and short-range rockets, and would be used to defend Sderot and other Negev towns from rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.
The defense minister was expected to ask Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to appraise the Phalanx's performance.
That assessment will be used to help the government decide whether to bring the anti-missile system to Israel.
The new development came after a series of articles in Haaretz, in which Dr. Natan Farber - an expert in ballistic missiles from the Technion - expressed his support for the project.
However, several Defense Ministry officials said the Phalanx system is not effective enough, and argue that Israel should focus on developing the Iron Dome defense system, which will not be ready before 2011.
Barak: Israel not ruling out military strike on IranBarak said Tuesday he has told top U.S. officials that Israel will not rule out a military strike against Iran.
Barak told reporters that he has stressed to U.S. leaders that there is still time to pursue tough diplomacy with Iran.
At the same time he has told the Americans that Iran poses a major threat to the whole world, and that for Israel no option would be removed from the table.
In a meeting with U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Barak said that "Iran's armaments program is threatening the stability of the entire world."
Barak added that Israel "insists on keeping and intensifying the economic and financial sanctions" imposed on Iran by the international community. "The policy which maintains that all options are on the table [in dealing with Iran] must be continued," he said.
The United States also has not ruled out a military strike to stop Iran's presumed drive for nuclear weapons, but an Israeli strike is considered more likely in the short term.
Barak would not say what advice he has been getting from the Americans.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday that the United States is still trying to coerce Iran to give up nuclear technology that the United States fears could be used to build a nuclear bomb.
She repeated a warning that the U.S. will seek additional sanctions unless Iran moves quickly to resume meaningful negotiations.
"Iran can't have it both ways," Rice told reporters at the State Department. She called Iran's vague reply so far to a renewed offer of perks to Tehran pretty disappointing but not a surprise.
Rice took a political gamble in sending a top deputy to a meeting with Iran over its nuclear program 10 days ago, but the meetings apparently yielded no progress.