Rights and wrongs about ‘the missile shield’
Rights and wrongs about ‘the missile shield’
NATO’s General Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen responded last Monday to a group of journalists invited to Brussels from certain countries in the alliance, including myself.
This is what I asked Rasmussen: Has Ankara been fully assured that the data obtained from the missile shield radar that is to be deployed in Turkey will not be shared with Israel? If that is the case, what are the technical and political elements of this assurance?
This is what he told me in response: “A security agreement between Israel and NATO that allows for the sharing of input from the missile defense system does not exist. Therefore it is sufficiently unequivocal: Sharing of input from the missile defense system between NATO and Israel will be out of question.”
It should also be duly noted that U.S. Defense Minister Leon Panetta confirmed Rasmussen’s response to a question that was asked during a press meeting Panetta had organized in Brussels last Thursday. “The missile defense system is not aimed at missiles from Israel. The system aims at potential missiles coming from Iran into the region [Europe],” Panetta said.
We ought to accept Rasmussen’s statements as right and valid within the “framework of NATO.” There is, however, a dimension of the ballistic missile defense system that transcends NATO. And Israel happens to be on this other dimension of the system.
I will attempt to elaborate, without going into needless details, on what the common grounds are between these dimensions, and for how long and up to what point Turkey can maintain its insistence regarding Israel.
I present this article I compiled from information I gathered from NATO experts I met with in Brussels and from data that is accessible to the public, for use by those who are so deeply enmeshed in ideological prejudices and so uninformed as to claim the radar is being deployed in Malatya firstly for Israel’s defense.
The issue that needs to be recognized is that one unit of the AN/TPY-2 X-band radar system that is to be set up in Kürecik was already deployed on Israeli soil a long time ago in accordance with a bilateral agreement signed between the U.S. and Israel in 2008. This radar constitutes an element of the U.S.-Israeli common defense system and is operated by American military personnel.
The range of this highly deft radar is estimated to be around 2,000 km. It is capable of scanning from a very wide angle of 260 degrees. Its function is to track an enemy missile on the run and to identify its class and target area.
The radar in Israel is capable of detecting all missiles launched from any part of Iran. Malatya’s relative advantage lies in its closer proximity to Iran in comparison to Israel. As such, when a missile is fired from Iran, the radar in Kürecik will be able to start tracking it from a much lower altitude. In other words, Iranian missiles will first be detected by the radar in Kürecik.
If Israel had been privy to the intelligence gathered by the radar in Kürecik, it would then have a bit more time to destroy Iranian missiles in the air. That Israel is not privy to information from the Kürecik radar, however, cannot be said to constitute a situation that is impossible to redress for Israel, as Israel itself has the same radar.
Nevertheless, Israel is indirectly a de facto partner to the missile defense system, if not to the Kürecik radar, and Ankara is not in possession of any tools that could hamper this partnership.
Because the system begins in space, the launching of an enemy missile is first detected by the heat sensors on a satellite, which then issues a warning.
Nonetheless, even though these systems have been integrated into NATO’s systems, they are, after all, U.S. satellites. And the “Missile Fired” warning obtained from a U.S. satellite first goes to the American command and control system as a principle, followed thereafter by NATO’s command systems. The radars then begin tracking the missile. All these happen within a matter of seconds.
That NATO is taking advantage of the same satellites does not prevent the transmission of the missile warning from space to Israel by virtue of bilateral agreements.
Satellites and radars comprise the system’s eyes. Command and control centers are its brains. And its arms are the anti-ballistic missiles.
The eyes, brains and arms within NATO’s system were integrated for the first time in last August. But there are two brains in the system: the American command and control center and NATO’s command and control center. These two “brains” will serve in the Ramstein Air Base in Germany side by side, but the American brain will become the “first among equals,” as all the signals transmitted by satellites and radars will first arrive into the American brain, followed by NATO’s.
To cut to the chase, the data would not be relayed to Israel from NATO of course, but it is entirely possible “technically speaking” for the American command and control center to relay that information to Israel.
As such, the trick of the trade for Turkey lies not in gaining assurances about Israel from NATO, but from the U.S. first.
*Kadri Gürsel is a columnist at Daily Milliyet in which this piece appeared Oct. 9.