Contradicting IDF, US says it didn’t establish military base in Israel

On its website, Israeli military scrambles to change all mentions of American ‘base’ to say ‘facility,’ but insists it’s still a first

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Col. Liran Cohen, head of the IDF's air defense school, left, and Col. David Shank, of the US 10th Army Air & Missile Defense Command, cut the ribbon to open the first American military base in Israel, inside the Mashabim Air Base, on September 18, 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)
Col. Liran Cohen, head of the IDF's air defense school, left, and Col. David Shank, of the US 10th Army Air & Missile Defense Command, cut the ribbon to open the first American military base in Israel, inside the Mashabim Air Base, on September 18, 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)

The American military on Tuesday denied a claim made by the Israel Defense Forces that the United States had established its first base in Israel, saying the new buildings were instead a “living facility.”

On Monday, the Israeli Air Force declared that the US military’s European Command (EUCOM) had opened a “base within a base” at the IDF’s air defense school, west of the towns of Dimona and Yeruham in southern Israel.

“We established an American base in the State of Israel, in the Israel Defense Forces, for the first time, with an American flag. A permanent base,” Brig. Gen. Tzvika Haimovitch, head of the IAF’s Aerial Defense Command, told reporters.

However, an official from EUCOM contradicted that account.

Brig. Gen. Tzvika Haimovitch, the head of Israel’s Aerial Defense Command, left, plants a tree with Lt. Gen. Richard Clark, commander of the US 3rd Air Force, to mark the establishment of the first American military base in Israel inside the Mashabim Air Base in southern Israel on September 18, 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)

“As part of the United States’ continued commitment to Israel, on September 18, senior leaders from the US military participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony… to commemorate the opening of a new building on an Israeli Air Force base,” said Meghan Henderson, deputy director of EUCOM’s Media Operations Division.

“The new buildings located on the Israeli installation are not a US military base,” she said. “The buildings are facilities on the existing Israeli Air Force Base to support our US service personnel who are working there.”

The message was passed along to the IDF, which quickly changed all mentions on its website of a “US military base” to read “US military facility.”

A cached version of the IDF’s blog maintains the original language, referring to the site as a “base.”

A preview of the story that can be seen in a tweet published by the IDF also refers to the facility as a “base.”

An Israeli army official confirmed that the Americans had contacted the IDF and requested the change in terminology, as a base carries with it a number of legal distinctions and can only be applied to facilities of a certain size.

The Israeli official said the rest of the information about the site and its significance remained the same.

A tweet showing the IDF referring to a new US military facility in Israel as a ‘base,’ despite American claims that it is not, on September 18, 2017. (Screen capture: Twitter)

US military forces are routinely based in Israel, for joint exercises, cooperation with the IDF, and to operate some US facilities in the country.

The new buildings that were opened Monday are located not far from a US military radar installation east of Dimona that tracks ballistic missiles once they are launched and provides details on their flight paths to defense systems.

“The buildings will function as a living facility for US service members, who are currently working at the Israeli base,” the EUCOM official said.

Haimovitch on Monday lauded the opening of the facility for allowing “us to improve our defense, in discovery and in interception and in preparedness.”

The air defense chief said the permanent presence of a US facility on Israeli soil sends a “message to the region and our surroundings that our partnership with our friend the United States is important.”

In his speech, Maj. Gen. John Gronski, deputy commander of US Army National Guard in Europe, said the facility “symbolizes the strong bond that exists between the United States and Israel.”

Gronski also discussed the already close relationship between the two militaries.

“The United States and Israel have long planned together, exercised together and trained together. And now, with the opening of this site, these crucial interactions will happen every day,” he said.

In addition to Gronski, high-ranking military officers and officials from the US and Israel participated in the ceremony, including Lt. Gen. Richard Clark, head of US 3rd Air Force.

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