TEL AVIV, Israel, Sept. 8 (UPI) -- Israeli officials say there is a "strong possibility" that the United States will leave missile defense systems in the Jewish state after a joint missile defense exercise planned for October is concluded, according to The Jerusalem Post.
The U.S. missiles, part of the Ballistic Defense Program, would almost certainly remain under U.S. control, but it was not clear whether they would participate in defending Israel against Iranian missiles.
The report indicated that the Americans may deploy the missiles in Israel rather than in the Czech Republic and Poland as planned, in deference to Russia's vehement objections to having U.S. missile systems so close to its border.
The Israeli report published Monday followed an Aug. 27 report in the Warsaw newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza that Washington planned to scrap its plans to base 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and an advanced radar in the Czech Republic to counter hostile missiles aimed at the United States, with Iran seen as the most likely threat.
U.S. President Barack Obama's administration is seeking to find an accommodation with a resurgent Russia on a host of issues, including having Moscow stop aiding Iran's nuclear program and providing it with advanced weapons systems that could impede any potential pre-emptive military strike.
By removing the planned anti-missile shield from Central Europe and relocating it is elsewhere -- Israel and Turkey have been seen as the most likely candidates -- Washington could expect a quid pro quo from Moscow.
In this case, that would likely be blocking the sale of advanced Russian S-300 air-defense missiles to Iran or supporting U.S. efforts to impose harsh new economic sanctions on Iran to force it to abandon its alleged quest for nuclear arms.
However, by redeploying the missiles in Israel, the Americans would be seen to be bolstering the Jewish state's anti-missile defenses against a possible Iranian strike with its Shehab-3 ballistic missiles.
The Shehabs -- Iran is believed to have 80-100 operational -- are expected to be bolstered by more powerful Sajjil-2 missiles now being developed.
By adding U.S. weight to Israel's own anti-ballistic defenses, namely the high-altitude, long-range Arrow-2 interceptor, Washington would be involving itself directly in the defense of Israel.
That would thus raise the stakes to an unprecedented degree in the event of an Iranian attack, either a first strike initiated by Tehran or one retaliating for a pre-emptive Israeli attack on the Islamic Republic.
Israel, which considers Iran's nuclear and missile development as an existential threat, is widely perceived to be considering a unilateral pre-emptive strike against Iran.
The Americans already have a long-range X-Band radar unit operating in Israel. The radar, a key element in the U.S. missile defense array, is intended to give Israel early warning of an Iranian missile launch.
The unit was set up at Nevatim Air Base in the Negev Desert a year ago at the request of the Israeli government and is operated by 100 U.S. personnel. It would be linked to the U.S. missile systems if they are deployed in Israel.
The Jerusalem Post reported that "while the United States has yet to announce it will leave the systems in place here, the possibility is strong, one official said, particularly in light of reports that the Pentagon was conducting a review of its European missile shield."
The daily noted that a "senior Israeli defense official" said that "while the United States has not made an official request to deploy the systems here, the topic was being discussed in unofficial channels."
The upcoming exercises, codenamed Juniper Cobra, will involve the Arrow-2 system along with the U.S. Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system and the ship-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System.
Meantime, Iran claimed Sunday that it has developed a missile defense system that can shoot down radar-evading cruise missiles.
But Western analysts were skeptical. They questioned why Iran was so anxious to acquire Russian S-300s to defend its strategic installations if it was capable of producing its own defense systems.