By Emelie Rutherford

A congressional proponent of deploying the X-Band ground-based warning radar in Israel said yesterday that while President Bush didn’t endorse the plan, as hoped, when in Israel, the idea is “picking up support” in the Bush administration and Congress.

Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) said at a pro-Israel lobbying group’s conference in Washington that she has been told President Bush “essentially supports” allowing the United State’s X-based radar system be fully shared with Israel. The proposal is spelled out in a May 5 letter to Bush from Harman and Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) that 64 additional House members signed.

“We were hopeful that when the president was in Israel for the 60th anniversary celebration [last month] that he would announce that he would plan to do this; That didn’t happen,” Harman said yesterday after addressing a panel on missile defense at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) Policy Conference 2008.

Still, Harman told the gathering the X-Band proposal is “picking up support both in the Congress and in the administration.”

Asked to elaborate after her presentation, Harman pointed to report language in the fiscal year 2009 defense authorization bill the House passed May 22 that she said “urges this be done.”

The House Armed Services Committee’s (HASC) report on the bill says Israel faces “a real and growing threat from short- and medium-range ballistic missiles” from places including Syria and Iran; thus, it says the committee believes the deployment of “a U.S. Army-Navy/Transportable-2 (AN/TPY-2) missile defense discrimination radar to Israel would greatly increase the capabilities of both Israel and U.S. forces deployed in support of Israel to defend against ballistic missile threats.”

“Therefore, the committee urges the Department of Defense to begin discussions with Israel about the possibility of deploying an AN/TPY-2 radar on its territory at the earliest feasible date,” the HASC report says.

The AN/TPY-2 is a high-power, transportable X-Band radar designed to detect, track, and discriminate ballistic missile threats, according to manufacturer Raytheon [RNT].

Harman and Kirk in their letter to Bush note Iran’s hostility’s to Israel and its expanding ballistic missile program. They call for putting the “full weight” of the U.S. ballistic missile defense system behind Israel, to “maximize” its defenses.

“We urge you to work with the Government of Israel to install an upgraded U.S. BMD ground-based early warning radar site in Israel that is fully integrated with U.S. BMD architecture,” the letter says.

It notes that the fiscal 2008 defense authorization act passed last year “included a mandated report by the Secretary of Defense on future coordination, interoperability, and integration of Israel into the U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense program.”

The letter’s signatories include HASC Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) and ranking member Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.).

“The direction is forward,” Harman said yesterday about the X-Band proposal, noting ongoing outreach to the Bush administration.

“[Rep.] Mark [Kirk] and I are continuing to work on it, and we’re continuing to work quietly with the administration to persuade them to act,” she said.

Bush is considered a strong proponent of ballistic missile defense.

Harman said she has not reached out to the three main presidential candidates on the X-Band proposal.

“I think as soon as this presidential race clarifies [and the Democratic nominee is clear], which might be very soon, I would certainly want us as a bipartisan duo, to reach out to both candidates,” she said, referring to her work with Kirk.

Harman is chair of the House Homeland Security intelligence subcommittee. She argued yesterday that “if people are truly concerned about protecting Israel from its biggest threat–which is incoming missiles–they have to give Israel better tools.”

“And this [X-Band radar] is the best tool we’ve got, at the moment, which is advanced warning against missiles that can get there in four minutes from Damascus and 11 minutes from Tehran,” she said.

Such early-warning radar would complement missile interceptors, she said, and give Israel more time to appropriately tailor a response to a missile attack.

Sitting alongside Israel missile defense program head Aryeh Herzog and AIPAC lobbyist Jeff Kuhnreich during the AIPAC conference’s missile defense panel, Harman argued the United States should consider Israel “on the same basis that we consider our NATO allies,” where “an attack against Israel is an attack against the United States.”

In the past two years, Iran has fired multiple missiles in a salvo launch; fired a missile from a submerged submarine; wielded missiles of steadily longer range; and announced plans for a space program. Placing a satellite in orbit involves technological capabilities similar to those in intercontinental ballistic missiles. (Defense Daily, May 13)

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the presumptive Republican nominee for president, addressed the AIPAC conference yesterday morning. He voiced his support for Israel and proposed new sanctions on Iran, but did not delve into specific missile defense systems. Dueling Democratic presidential hopefuls Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) are scheduled to address AIPAC tomorrow.