U.S. agrees to fund anti-missile defense system, long delayed due to budgetary difficulties, beyond regular annual defense assistance afforded to Israel.
By Amos Harel Tags: Iron Dome IDF Barack Obama Ehud Barak
The budgetary difficulty that has been delaying Israel’s armament with the anti-missile defense system Iron Dome has apparently been resolved. The Pentagon has issued a message to Israel’s Defense Ministry that U.S. President Barack Obama has approved the transfer of special assistance totaling $205 million (just under NIS 800 million) for the purchase of more than ten Iron Dome batteries.
Anti-missile system Iron Dome, meant to protect Israeli towns from rocket attacks.
Photo by: Rafael Advanced Defense Systems LTD.
The Iron Dome missile defense system aced a test run in January, and event that convinced senior defense officials that the defense system was on its way to becoming operational and that it will be able to effectively protect against short-range missiles, such as Katyushas and Qassams, which often hit Israeli towns.
The project’s first phase, which included development, test runs and the manufacture of two batteries, required a budget of NIS 800 million. The Israel Air Force has also trained a special new unit to operate the defense system.
However, the plan was not allotted an adequate budget. The Israel Defense Forces ducked away from funding the project with its budget, explaining that offensive readiness was a higher priority, and the Defense Ministry has been looking for other budgetary avenues. Among other things, Israel has struck a deal with an unnamed eastern Asian country (Singapore, according to a recent report in a French magazine) to participate in the funding of future phases in the project.
Israel has recently raised the possibility that the U.S. assist in the funding of the project by transferring a sum of money beyond the U.S.’s annual defense assistance. The request was reviewed closely during Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s last visit to Washington earlier this month, and during talks between Barak and Obama and other senior American defense officials.
On Wednesday, Barak was notified that Israel’s request had been granted. Director General of the Defense Ministry, Udi Shani, is currently in Washington to finalize the details. A senior Israeli defense official told Haaretz on Thursday that the U.S. assistance was “a breakthrough, which will significantly facilitate moving forward with the project. The question of funding has been, up until now, the main obstacle.”
“The Americans were skeptical at first,” the official continued. “But after they saw the results of the last test run they were impressed and became confident in the system’s abilities.” He added that the Defense Ministry has yet to decide how to allocate the funds. He stressed that it would be at least a year before a substantial number of batteries would be operational in Israel.