Obama asks Congress for $205 million to upgrade Israeli missile defenses
President Barack Obama has asked Congress to approve 205 million dollars to help Israel deploy an anti-missile defense system, the White House said Thursday.
“The president recognizes the threat missiles and rockets fired by Hamas and Hezbollah pose to Israelis, and has therefore decided to seek funding from Congress to support the production of Israel’s short range rocket defense system called Iron Dome,” White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said.
Israel completed tests in January on its Iron Dome anti-missile system, designed to intercept short-range rockets and artillery shells fired at Israel by Hamas and Hezbollah.
The next phase in its development is to integrate it into the army. Israel hopes the system will provide it with a means to deal with rocket fire from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and from Lebanon.
Palestinian militants have fired thousands of home-made rockets into southern Israel, prompting Israel’s devastating assault on the Islamist Hamas in Gaza on December 27, 2008.
The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah also fired some 4,000 rockets into northern Israel during a 2006 war with Israel, which now believes Hezbollah has an arsenal of some 40,000 rockets.
“As the president has repeatedly said, our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakable and our defense relationship is stronger than ever,” said Vietor. “The United States and our ally Israel share many of the same security challenges, from combating terrorism to confronting the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear-weapons program.”
The move comes after ties between Israel and its key ally the US were strained by an announcement of new Israeli settler homes in east Jerusalem made during a visit to the Jewish state by Vice President Joe Biden.
Israel’s President Shimon Peres also sparked controversy in April when he accused Syria of supplying the Shiite Hezbollah movement with long-range Scud missiles, a charge Damascus has staunchly denied.
Washington, which has sought rapprochement with Damascus, further fed the controversy when Defense Secretary Robert Gates accused Iran and Syria of arming Hezbollah with sophisticated weaponry, without naming Scuds.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad about the risks of triggering a regional war if he supplied the Shiite group with the missiles.
Fragile indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority of president Mahmud Abbas opened Sunday with US envoy George Mitchell shuttling between the two sides in Jerusalem and Ramallah.