The US is quietly expanding a classified military base named Site 512 atop Mt. Har Qeren in the Negev in Israel.
The Pentagon awarded a multimillion-dollar contract to construct U.S. army facilities for a covert base it maintains deep within Israel’s Negev desert, only 20 miles from Gaza, two months prior to Hamas’ onslaught on Israel. The venerable American installation, known by its code name “Site 512,” is a radar station that keeps an eye out for any missile assaults on Israel.
Since Site 512 is aimed toward Iran, which is located more than 700 miles distant, it was unable to observe anything on October 7, despite thousands of Hamas rockets being launched.
At Site 512, a classified base atop Mt. Har Qeren in the Negev, the U.S. Army is discreetly advancing construction to incorporate what official documents refer to as a “life support facility,” which is military jargon for buildings that resemble quarters for people.
There is already a covert American military presence in Israel, despite President Joe Biden and the White House’s insistence that there are no intentions to send troops there in the midst of Israel’s conflict with Hamas. And it is clearly expanding, as evidenced by government contracts and budget documents.
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The Pentagon made a passing mention of the $35.8 million US soldier facility in a contract announcement on August 2, despite it never having been made public or previously disclosed. The site’s true identity has been deliberately concealed by the Defense Department, which in other papers only refers to it as a “classified worldwide” project. However, budget documents obtained by The Intercept show that the location is actually a part of Site 512. (A request for comment was not immediately answered by the Pentagon.)
“Sometimes something is treated as an official secret not in the hope that an adversary would never find out about it but rather [because] the U.S. government, for diplomatic or political reasons, does not want to officially acknowledge it,” Paul Pillar, a former chief analyst at the CIA’s counterterrorism center who said he had no specific knowledge of the base, told The Intercept. “In this case, perhaps the base will be used to support operations elsewhere in the Middle East in which any acknowledgment that they were staged from Israel, or involved any cooperation with Israel, would be inconvenient and likely to elicit more negative reactions than the operations otherwise would elicit.”
When the two nations opened a military facility in 2017, Voice of America, which is supported by the US government, referred to it as “the first American military base on Israeli soil,” marking a rare recognition of the US military presence in Israel. Brig. Gen. Tzvika Haimovitch of the Israeli Air Force referred to it as “historic.” “We established an American base in the Israel Defense Forces in the State of Israel for the first time,” he declared.
After one day, the US military insisted that it was just a “living facility” for US service members stationed at an Israeli base, rejecting the claim that it was an American installation.
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Similar euphemism wording is used by the U.S. military to describe the new facility in Israel, which its procurement papers refer to as a “life support area.” The Pentagon typically wants to hide U.S. military sites through obfuscation like this. In the past, Site 512 has been referred to as a “cooperative security location.” This classification is meant to provide a low-cost, minimal-footprint presence, but it has been used to bases that can accommodate up to 1,000 troops, as The Intercept has previously revealed.
But the threat presented by Iranian mid-range missiles, not that of Palestinian terrorists, is what led to the establishment of Site 512.
The U.S. government’s reaction to the Hamas attack is still dominated by concerns about Iran. The Pentagon has significantly increased its presence in the Middle East in an effort to fight Iran, which supports both Hamas and Israel’s northern adversary, Hezbollah, a political organization with a strong military arm in Lebanon that the United States considers to be terrorist organization. In the wake of the attack, the United States stationed two aircraft carriers off the coast of Israel and boosted the number of fighter jets in the area.
Despite this, prominent Republicans such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have attacked Biden for alleged “weakness on Iran.” The U.S. intelligence community has indicated that Iranian authorities were taken aback by the strike, despite claims made by certain media outlets that Iran was involved in the Hamas operation’s planning.
According to a specialist on American military outposts abroad, the reason for the base’s non-acknowledgment might be traced back to the past of ties between the US and Israel.
“My speculation is that the secrecy is a holdover from when U.S. presidential administrations tried to offer a pretense of not siding with Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab conflicts,” said David Vine, a professor of anthropology at American University. “The announcement of U.S. military bases in Israel in recent years likely reflects the dropping of that pretense and a desire to more publicly proclaim support for Israel.”