SHAFAQNA (Shia News Association)The Pentagon is building a missile-defense radar station at a secret site in Qatar and organizing its biggest-ever minesweeping exercises in the Persian Gulf, as preparations accelerate for a possible flare-up with Iran, according to U.S. officials.
The radar site will complete the backbone of a system designed to defend U.S. interests and allies such as Israel and European nations against Iranian rockets, officials told The Wall Street Journal. The minesweeping exercises, in September, will be the first such multilateral drills in the region, and are expected to be announced by U.S. officials Tuesday.
The Pentagon's moves reflect concern that tensions with Iran could intensify as the full weight of sanctions targeting the country's oil exports takes hold this summer. Though U.S. officials described both the radar site and the naval exercises as defensive in nature, the deployments likely will be seen by Iran as provocations.
The latest measures also could help the U.S. reassure Israel and other anxious allies that the Pentagon is taking steps to counter Iran after months of seemingly fruitless negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear program. Top U.S. officials have privately voiced concern that Israel might strike Iran's nuclear sites. Iran denies its nuclear program is aimed at building nuclear weapons.
The U.S. moves are intended to address the two Iranian offensive capabilities Pentagon planners most worry about: Tehran's arsenal of ballistic missiles and its threat to shut down the oil-shipping lanes of the Strait of Hormuz by mining them.
Underscoring concerns, the Pentagon said Monday it is sending an aircraft carrier, the John C. Stennis, to the Middle East several months early to ensure two carriers are present in the region at all times. One of two aircraft carriers now in the area was scheduled to leave before its replacement arrived, prompting the Pentagon to send the Stennis, Pentagon press secretary George Little said.
The rising tensions in the Persian Gulf were apparent Monday when the USNS Rappahannock, a Navy refueling ship with a mostly civilian crew, fired on a small boat in the waters off the United Arab Emirates, killing one fisherman, according to a U.A.E. official.
The Pentagon chose to place the new radar site in Qatar because it is home to the largest U.S. military air base in the region, Al Udeid Air Base, analysts say. More than 8,000 troops are stationed there and at another U.S. base in Qatar.
Qatari officials in Washington and Doha didn't respond to requests for comment. Qatar has taken on roles in conflicts in Libya and Syria, winning U.S. praise. Qatar guards a more neutral stance when it comes to Iran, maintaining close relations with Tehran, which shares ownership with Doha of the region's largest natural gas field.
The radar base in Qatar is slated to house a powerful AN/TPY-2 radar, also known as an X-Band radar, and supplement two similar arrays already in place in Israel's Negev Desert and in central Turkey, officials said. Together, the three radar sites form an arc that U.S. officials say can detect missile launches from northern, western and southern Iran.
Those sites will enable U.S. officials and allied militaries to track missiles launched from deep inside Iran, which has an arsenal of missiles capable of reaching Israel and parts of Europe. Intelligence agencies believe Iran could have a ballistic missile as early as 2015 that could threaten the U.S.
The radar installations in turn are being linked to missile-interceptor batteries throughout the region and to U.S. ships with high-altitude interceptor rockets. The X-Band radar provides images that can be used to pinpoint rockets in flight.
Officials said the U.S. military's Central Command, which is overseeing the buildup to counter Iran, also wants to deploy the Army's first Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile-interceptor system, known as a THAAD, to the region in the coming months, possibly in the United Arab Emirates.
The THAAD has its own radar, so deploying it separately from the X-Bands provides even more coverage and increases the system's accuracy, officials said.
The X-Band radar and the THAAD will provide an "extra layer of defense," supplementing Patriot batteries that are used to counter lower-altitude rockets, said Riki Ellison, chairman of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, which supports developing and deploying the systems.
"There's an effort to get it up and running as soon as possible," a senior U.S. defense official said. "But it's not like there's some rush to be ready for imminent conflict."
The Pentagon has been trying for years to develop an X-Band site in the Gulf. The effort has been complicated by disagreements between Arab states reluctant to pool intelligence and other missile-defense resources to create a regional umbrella against Iranian rockets.
Construction of the radar base was due to be completed this month in a remote area, according to Pentagon documents. The documents, dated May 10, didn't disclose the name of the country or the region where the X-Band base was being built.
Officials said the location of the new site in Qatar was being kept secret because of the sensitivity surrounding any U.S. military deployments in the emirate.
The Pentagon told congressional committees that it will cost $12.2 million to construct a pad for the radar, roads, barracks and security measures at the site.
The first X-Band system, built by Raytheon Co., was deployed in Japan in 2006 to track North Korean launches. A second was placed in Israel's Negev Desert in 2008. The U.S. recently put a third in Turkey.
In the coming minesweeping exercises, the U.S. and its allies will practice detecting and destroying mines with ships, helicopters and robotic underwater drones in the Persian Gulf and other locations in the region, though not in the strait itself. U.S. officials said 20 nations would take part in the exercises, scheduled for Sept. 16 to 27, but didn't say which ones.
The U.S. Navy has doubled the number of minesweepers in the region, to eight vessels, as part of a buildup aimed at deterring Iran from attempting to close the strait. Iran has repeatedly threatened to close the strait, through which nearly 20% of the world's traded oil passes.
A senior military official said the minesweeping exercise shouldn't be seen as provocative.
Amid regional tensions, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sought to reassure Israel on Monday that U.S. efforts to block Iran's nuclear ambitions are working, and need more time to play out. "Our two-track policy of diplomacy and pressure is in full move here," she said after meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Source : THE WALL STREET JOURNAL