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Saudis finally joins 43 U.S. allies, sends liasion to war effort

Thursday, January 9, 2003

Saudi Arabia has decided to send a military liaison to U.S. Central Command headquarters in Florida.

U.S. defense officials said the Saudi Defense Ministry notified Washington over its agreement to assign a representative to Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla. Until now, Saudi Arabia was the only Gulf Cooperation Council country to have refused to send a representative to Central Command.

Central Command, responsible for the Gulf region and Middle East, is planning the war against Iraq. So far, 43 countries regarded as friends and allies of the United States have sent representatives to Central Command to observe war preparations.

Officials said the Saudi agreement came after months of discussions with the Bush administration over ways to improve military cooperation, Middle East Newsline reported. Military ties between Riyad and Washington declined significantly in wake of the Al Qaida suicide missions on Sept. 11, 2002.

A Defense Department source said Riyad stressed that its decision to send a representative to Central Command headquarters should not be deemed as participation in any U.S.-led war against Iraq. The source said Riyad, however, has expressed concern over the prospect of an Iraqi missile attack during such a war.

Officials said Saudi Arabia has signalled its willingness to allow the United States to use Saudi air bases and air space to help defend the kingdom in any war against Iraq. They said this would include using an advanced command and control facility at the Prince Sultan Air Base to direct combat aircraft over Iraq.

Saudi Arabia, however, has not approved any U.S. air attacks on Baghdad from the kingdom, officials said.

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The U.S. Army plans to deploy 1,000 soldiers and personnel for the exercise, the sources said. The exercise will include the operation of all three missile defense systems in an effort to test interoperability and interception capability.

The scenarios for the exercise include the firing of a salvo missiles to demonstrate U.S. and Israeli interception capabilities. At one point, Israel had urged that only one missile at a time be fired. But officials said Israel agreed to a U.S. request for an interception attempt of a salvo of missiles.

Israeli defense sources said the two countries hope to complete Jennifer Cobra around Jan. 15. They said exercise was to have taken place in the last week of December, but was postponed for about two weeks.

Under the exercise, Israel and the United States were to have tested a range of low- and medium-tier missile defense systems. They include the U.S. PAC-2 Gem+ system, the Israeli-U.S. Arrow-2 system and the Aegis-class SM-3 interceptor.

On Sunday, Israel succeeded in its first test of the Arrow-2's ability to respond to a salvo of enemy missiles. Four Arrow-2 interceptors, only one of which contained a warhead, were launched in a simulated attack by four Iraqi medium-range missiles.

Later this month, Israel and the United States are expected to complete preparations for the joint production of Arrow-2 interceptors. A delegation from the Boeing Co. will discuss both marketing and production issues with the state-owned Israel Aircraft Industries. This will include the prospect of supplying the Arrow-2 to other countries.

Under the agreement, Boeing will manufacture the interceptor. IAI will produce other assets of the missile defense system, such as the Green Pine radar.

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