US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) Weapon System
Thousands of US troops began descending on Israel this week. Senior US military sources toldDEBKAfileFriday, Jan. 6 that many would be staying up to the end of the year as part of the US-IDF deployment in readiness for a military engagement with Iran and its possible escalation into a regional conflict. They will be joined by a US aircraft carrier. The warplanes on its decks will fly missions with Israeli Air Force jets. The 9,000 US servicemen gathering in Israel in the coming weeks are mostly airmen, missile interceptor teams, marines, seamen, technicians and intelligence officers.
The incoming American soldiers are officially categorized as participants in Austere Challenge 12, the biggest joint US-Israeli war game ever held.
The maneuver was originally designated Juniper Stallion 2012. However, the altered name plus the comment heard from the exercise's commander, US Third Air Force Lt. Gen. Frank Gorenc, during his visit two weeks ago, that the coming event is more a "deployment" than an "exercise," confirmed that Washington has expanded its mission. The joint force will now be in place ready for a decision to attack Iran's nuclear installations or any war emergency.
Our sources disclose that it was decided at the last minute in Washington and Jerusalem to announce the forthcoming Austere Challenge 12 on Thursday night, Jan. 5, ahead of the bulletin released by Tehran about another Iranian naval exercise at the Strait of Hormuz to take place in February, although its 10-day drill in the same arena only ended Monday, Jan. 2.
The early release was decided in consultations among US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the two army chiefs, US Gen. Martin Dempsey and Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz. British Defense Minister Phillip Hammond, on a visit to Washington, was brought into the discussion. The handout circulated to US correspondents from Hammond's talks in the US capital affirmed that Britain stands ready to strike Iran if the Strait of Hormuz is closed. However, that phrase was omitted from the British minister's remarks at a news conference, following a last-minute request from Panetta, signifying the Obama administration's interest of keeping a low profile on plans for attacking Iran.
Tehran too is walking a taut tightrope. It is staging military's maneuvers every few days to assuring the Iranian people that its leaders are fully prepared to defend the country against an American or Israeli strike on its national nuclear program. By this stratagem, Iran's ground, sea and air forces are maintained constantly at top war readiness to thwart any surprise attack.
The joint US-Israeli drill will test multiple Israeli and US air defense systems against incoming missiles and rockets, according to the official communiqué.
DEBKAfile's military sources add that they will also practice intercepting missiles and rockets coming in from Syria, Hizballah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
It will not be the first time a US aircraft carrier docks in Israel for joint operations with the Israeli Air Force. On June 9, 2010, the USS Truman dropped anchor opposite Israel to test a joint deployment against Iran and its allies. The carrier and its air and naval strike force then staged joint firing practices with the Israeli Air Force over the Negev in the South. Washington and Jerusalem are doing their utmost to present a perfectly synchronized military front against Iran: American officers are stationed at IDF command centers and Israeli officers posted at the US European Command-EUCOM. At the same time,DEBKAfile's military sources disclose that full consensus has not been reached on every last particular of shared operation against Iran, should one go forward.
Iranhas threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, which served as the conduit for 17 millions barrels of oil every day last year.
Naval commanders believe the deployment of HMS Daring, a Type 45 destroyer, will send a significant message to the Iranians because of the firepower and world-beating technology carried by the warship.
Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, has publicly warned Iran that any blockade of the Strait of Hormuz would be "illegal and unsuccessful".
The Daily Telegraph understands that HMS Daring has been fitted with new technology that will give it the ability to shoot down any missile in Iran's armoury. The £1 billion destroyer, which will leave Portsmouth next Wednesday, also carries the world's most sophisticated naval radar, capable of tracking multiple incoming threats from missiles to fighter jets.
Daring, with its crew of 190, will transit through the Suez Canal and enter the Gulf later this month to replace the Type 23 frigate currently on station.
Iran completed a 10-day naval exercise in the sensitive waters near the Strait of Hormuz on Tuesday, staging manouevres which included firing three anti-ship missiles understood to be the Chinese-made C-802.
Yesterday, Tehran said that another exercise would be held in the same area next month. Admiral Ali Fadavi, commander of the naval branch of the Revolutionary Guard, warned that this would be "different" from the most recent one.
Speaking earlier, Mr Hammond said that "our joint naval presence in the Arabian Gulf" was "key to keeping the Strait of Hormuz open for international trade".
A Navy source has indicated that more British ships could be sent to the Gulf if required. The second Type 45, HMS Dauntless, will also be available to sail at short notice.
Daring's special software upgrades will significantly increase the ability of its Sampson radar and Sea Viper missiles to destroy incoming missiles.
During an intensive "swarm attack", the vessel could simultaneously track, engage and destroy more targets than five of it predecessor Type 42 destoyers.
The Sea Viper is also one of the world's most agile missiles equipped with its own radar that can allow it to hit a target a hundred miles away.
Lord West, the former First Sea Lord, described Daring as a "world beater", adding: "This warship has an unbelievably capable ability to track targets, spot the most dangerous and identify them for its missiles to take out. It's highly, highly capable. I would like to see the Type 45s show their potential in the region."
The 8,000 ton destroyer will carry 48 Sea Vipers that can also be used to shoot down fighters as well as sea skimming missiles. It will also carry a Lynx helicopter capable of carrying Sea Skua anti-ship missiles and is capable of embarking 60 special forces troops.
An MoD spokesman said: "While the newly operational Type 45 destroyer HMS Daring is more capable than earlier ships, her deployment East of Suez has been long planned, is entirely routine and replaces a frigate on station."