Republicans eye $680 mln for Israel´s ´Iron Dome´ shield (REUTERS) By Jim Wolf WASHINGTON 04/20/12 6:41pm EDT)
Reuters News Service
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* Move may put election-year pressure on Obama
* U.S. has so far provided $205 million for system
* Administration has said it would seek "appropriate" sum
WASHINGTON, April 20 (Reuters) - The United States would spend an
additional $680 million through 2015 to strengthen Israel´s short-
range rocket shield under a plan crafted by House of Representatives´
Republicans, two congressional staff members disclosed on Friday.
The figure could put election-year pressure on President Barack
Obama´s administration to spell out what it deems suitable support
for the "Iron Dome," which has played an increasingly important role
in Israeli security.
Israel has so far deployed three operating units of the system, which
helped thwart Palestinian rocket salvos during a flare-up in fighting
around the Gaza Strip last month. It has spoken of needing a total of
13 or 14 units to protect various fronts.
The system intercepted more than 80 percent of the targets it engaged
in March when nearly 300 rockets and mortars were fired at southern
Israel, saving "many lives," a U.S. Defense Department spokesman said
on March 27.
The Obama administration plans to request an
unspecified, "appropriate" level of funding from Congress to help
expand the system based on Israeli requirements and production
capacity, George Little, the Pentagon press secretary, said at the
There was no immediate official comment from the Obama administration
on Republican plans to seek $680 million starting in the current
fiscal year through fiscal 2015. It is not clear how the
administration will view the proposal.
The matter may come up when panels of the U.S. House Armed Services
Committee start crafting their version of the 2013 Defense
Authorization Act next week or, failing that, when the full committee
writes its bill in May.
So far, the United States has provided $205 million to support the
Iron Dome effort, manufactured by Israel´s state-owned Raphael
Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. The system uses small radar-guided
missiles to blow up in midair Katyusha-style rockets with ranges of 5
km (3 miles) to 70 km (45 miles), as well as mortar bombs.
A Republican congressional aide said the proposed additional $680
million would provide the batteries and interceptors needed to defend
Israel based on the current coverage and the arsenal available to
Hamas and Hezbollah Islamist militants.
The American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, the biggest pro-Israel
lobbying group, did not immediately respond to questions about what
it deems the scope of Israel´s need.
REPUBLICANS CRITICAL OF FUNDING LEVEL
This year, Obama´s budget requests $3.1 billion in security
assistance to Israel, part of a 10-year, $30 billion U.S. commitment
to the Jewish state´s security. None of that is scheduled to fund
Top Republicans have criticized Obama for what they described as
inadequate funding of U.S.-Israeli missile defense cooperation in his
2013 budget request released in February amid deficit-reduction
"We are deeply concerned that at a time of rising threats to our
strongest ally in the Middle East, the administration is requesting
record-low support for this vital defense cooperation program," House
Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and House
Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard McKeon, wrote in a Feb. 14
letter to Obama.
Political analysts said U.S. and allied defense needs were often
treated as wedge issues in election years along with other potential
Congressional Republicans may hope their strong support for "Iron
Dome" will help "crack the normal two-to-one advantage Democrats
usually enjoy with Jewish voters," said Cal Jillson, a political
scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. (Additional
reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Peter Cooney) (© Thomson
Reuters 2012. 04/20/12)
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