Scores of lawmakers in Congress have asked President Bush to deploy a U.S. missile defense radar in Israel that would be linked to a planned American missile defense system protecting Europe from Iranian attacks.

Under the proposal, the United States would place an X-Band ground-based warning radar in Israel.

U.S. Reps. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), a House Appropriations Committee member, and Jane Harman (D-Calif.), a House Homeland Security Committee member, made their request in a letter to Bush that also was signed by roughly 70 lawmakers, including Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, the ranking Republican on the panel.

It is critical, the letter stated, that Israel be protected from any potential missiles launched from Iran. The new radar hookup, according to the lawmakers, would double the Israeli missile defense range, and increase engagement time sixfold.

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.)

For example, in November, the Iranians tested a new Ashura long-range ballistic missile–an upgrade to the “Shahab-3” capable of hitting Israel and Europe.

Further, Iran has refused demands of the United Nations and industrialized countries, which urge Iran to cease producing nuclear materials. Iran claims it is producing nuclear matter to fuel electrical generating plants, but leaders of industrialized nations fear Iran will use those materials to produce nuclear weapons. Tellingly, Russia already supplied Iran enough fissile material to fuel a plant.

Finally, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said that Israel should be wiped from the map. Israel is within range of some Iranian missiles. As well, Iran supplied hundreds of missiles that Hezbollah combatants used to attack and destroy homes and other targets in Israel in 2006. They even hit an Israeli ship.

“Given the Iranian President’s threat to ‘wipe Israel off the map,’ we should put the full weight of the U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense system behind our democratic ally,” the letter urged.

“Democracies are strongest when they stick together,” Kirk said. “Iranian President Ahmadinejad calls for Israel to be wiped off the map and talks of the Jewish people’s annihilation. America should send a message to the Iranian dictator–Israel will have the full weight of America’s missile defense system to defend herself.”

“Israel’s security is in constant jeopardy. As an important ally and shining democratic example in the Middle East, her protection is a top U.S. priority,” Harman said. “The threat from Iran is real–both to her security and to the stability of the region. Sharing our BMD capability with Israel is smart policy and an effective deterrent against an increasingly volatile neighbor.”

The letter to Bush noted 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.”

Lawmakers signing the letter wish to expedite that move.

“As you know, the Iranian ballistic missile program is expanding,” the letter warned. “In November, the Iranians tested a new Ashura long-range ballistic missile–an upgrade to the Shahab-3 capable of hitting Israel and Europe.”

There already is a precedent for the United States giving Israel access to U.S. intelligence data flows, the letter noted.

“In 2001, the United States granted Israel access to the U.S. Defense Support Program (DSP), the principal component of our Satellite Early Warning System. This watershed cooperative program established the precedent for U.S.-Israel cooperation on early warning.”

While lawmakers signing the letter welcomed that existing arrangement, they said it doesn’t go far enough in providing warning protections to Israel.

“DSP, however, only solves one challenge: missile launch detection,” the letter explained. “It does not contribute significantly to target discrimination and intercept capability. To reduce the Iranian threat, we should deploy a U.S. BMD-linked X-Band ground-based warning radar to Israel to maximize her defenses.”

The letter explained how such an integrated, cooperative system would work.

“A U.S. BMD early-warning radar site in Israel would improve target discrimination, imaging, modeling, and battle management,” the lawmakers observed. “An X-Band radar linked to the U.S. BMD system would work in concert with the DSP support we already provide Israel to fully target any incoming threat and increase the likelihood of successful intercepts.”

Bush is a strong proponent of ballistic missile defense (BMD).

He pulled the United States from the ABM Treaty, enabling the Department of Defense and its Missile Defense Agency to begin developing and assembling a multi-layered BMD shield to protect the nation from missile attack. The resulting BMD systems based on land, at sea and in the air fill different roles, some aiming to kill enemy missiles just after they rise from a launch pad or silos, while other U.S. BMD systems would strike enemy weapons in the midcourse of their ballistic flights, and still other BMD systems would take out missiles in the final moments of their downward approaches toward American cities or other targets.

One of those BMD assets is the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, now installed in Alaska and California.

A modified version of this system would be installed in Europe as the European missile defense system, including a radar in the Czech Republic and interceptors in silos in Poland.

By linking the European system and its data flows with a radar in Israel, that would help provide protection to Israel from attacking missiles launched in the Middle East, such as from Iran.

The European system isn’t a reality yet, however, even though its chances of realization are far brighter now than they were last year. At that point, some Europeans criticized it as unneeded, or unworkable, or saw it as a U.S. move to extend its military presence into Eastern Europe. Further, Russians raged that the European system interceptors could shoot down Russian ICBMs, a claim that Bush and other U.S. leaders dismissed as patently absurd. The interceptors lack the speed for such a task, and there would be 10 interceptors versus hundreds of Russian ICBMs and nuclear warheads.

NATO recently endorsed the system, in a signal victory for Bush, and the Czech Republic is to sign an agreement to host the radar early next month. As for Poland, it is in talks with the United States over possible U.S. moves to bolster the Polish military, as part of a deal for installation of the silos and interceptors.