Israel and the United States will begin on Monday a month-long joint air defense exercise, during which a THAAD anti-missile missile battery will be deployed in Israel for the first time.
The joint exercise signals the tightening of military cooperation between the two countries, after U.S. President Donald Trump announced that he plans to remove most of the American forces stationed in Syria.
THAAD – which stands for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense – is a system made by Lockheed Martin that intercepts short- and medium-range ballistic missiles. Though introduced in the late 1980s, it is still used by the U.S. military.
Since 2008, the X-Band radar system that is part of the THAAD project has been deployed at the Israeli Air Force base at Nevatim, to give the Israeli home front more time to respond to a potential missile launch from Iran. The American radar works in coordination with Israel’s early-warning system.
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However, the deployment of an entire THAAD battery in Israel's Negev is unprecedented. Large forces from the air defense divisions of both countries will participate in the exercise, but a test interception by the American system is not expected.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the American deployment testifies "yet again to the United States' commitment to Israel's security." He said THAAD is considered "one of the most advance systems in the world, and together with our defense systems we're even stronger [and can] handle threats, near and far, from all across the Middle East."
The two countries have only just completed a more routine joint exercise, Juniper Falcon, which also involved both countries’ air defense divisions.
The joint exercise was scheduled to begin the day after Netanyahu’s trip to Moscow to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin. Israel has so far managed to further tighten its military ties with the United States while preserving its diplomatic and defense cooperation with Russia regarding the Syrian front, without quarreling with either of the two superpowers.