WASHINGTON (Reuters) - 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, Israeli Defence 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. Defence 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.
Signalling 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.
A senior U.S. Defence 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 defences as quickly as possible.”
Barak said the United States will also increase Israel’s access to its Defence 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 pre-emptive 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 Defence 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.
Additional reporting by Andrew Gray and David Morgan; Editing by Eric Walsh