Even though the U.S. has routinely deployed forces to Israel, it is only now opening an official permanent military base in the country which will serve dozens of soldiers operating a missile defense system, The Hill reports. The move, largely seen as symbolic, is meant to send a strong message to Israel’s enemies.
It will be a “base within a base,” located inside the Israeli Air Force’s Mashabim Air Base in the middle of the Negev desert, close to a U.S. military radar installation east of Dimona that tracks ballistic missiles.
Israel’s multi-tier missile defense system includes the Arrow, designed to intercept long-range ballistic missiles in the stratosphere with an eye on Iran, and Iron Dome, which defends against short-range rockets from the Gaza Strip. David’s Sling is meant to counter the type of medium-range missiles possessed by Iranian-backed Hezbollah militants.
Israel considers Iran to be its greatest threat, citing the country’s nuclear ambitions, its development of long-term missiles, hostile anti-Israel rhetoric and support for anti-Israel militant groups. Israel is worried that Iran and its proxy Hezbollah will establish a long-term presence in Syria near the Israeli border.
The move comes at a time of growing Israeli concerns about archenemy Iran’s development of long-range missiles. Together with the U.S., Israel has developed a multilayered system of defenses against everything from long-range guided missile attacks from Iran to crude rockets fired from Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.
“It’s a message that says Israel is better prepared. It’s a message that says Israel is improving the response to threats,” said General Zvika Haimovich, the commander of Israel’s aerial defense.
Its opening coincides with Israel’s renewed push for the Trump administration to cancel what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the “terrible” nuclear deal with Iran, whom Israel considers its biggest enemy. On Sunday, Israeli intelligence chief Yossi Cohen was cited by Israel’s Channel 2 as calling for immediate action to ensure that Tehran cannot attain a nuclear bomb.
“Today’s Iran is the North Korea of yesterday, and so we need to act now so that we don’t wake up to [an Iranian] bomb,” Cohen reportedly said. It was not immediately clear whether he called for a military strike against Iran.
The following day, an Iranian Army commander threatened to destroy Tel Aviv and Haifa if Israel makes “the tiniest” mistake of attacking Iran, according to Tasnim News Agency.
The deal was negotiated by world powers, including the U.S., two years ago, to make sure Iran does not build nuclear weapons. The UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, last week certified that Iran complied with the agreement.