The US plans to give Israel the extra $70m that it asked for this year for its short-range missile defence programme known as the “Iron Dome,” Leon Panetta, the US defence secretary has said.
Panetta on Thursday said his department would seek additional funding for the programme over the next three years “based on an annual assessment of Israeli security requirements”.
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He said Barack Obama, the US president, had directed him to fill Israel’s request for the extra money for the system, which is designed to intercept short-range rockets and mortars.
Panetta’s statement came after a meeting with his Israeli counterpart Ehud Barak at the Pentagon on Thursday.
The US has already provided $205m for the system and annually gives Israel roughly another $3.1bn in overall security assistance, the most for any foreign country.
However, top Republicans have criticised Obama for what they described as inadequate funding of US-Israeli missile defence co-operation in his 2013 budget request, released in February amid deficit-reduction requirements.
Obama’s fiscal 2013 budget request calls for $30bn in funding for Israel over a 10-year peried, none of which was scheduled to fund Iron Dome.
Legislation moving through the Republican-controlled US House of Representatives would give Israel an additional $680m for the Iron Dome system through 2015, and some members are seeking a deal with Israel to share production of the programme with US weapons manufacturers.
“My goal is to ensure Israel has the funding it needs each year to produce these batteries that can protect its citizens,” Panetta’s statement said.
He said the $70m would be provided this fiscal year, which ends in September.
“This is assistance that, provided Congress concurs, we can move quickly, to ensure no shortage in this important system,” Panetta said.
Barak meanwhile spoke to reporters after meeting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington later on Thursday.
“I was at the Pentagon,” he said. “And we are highly appreciative of the approach of this administration, of the secretary, secretary of defence and of course of the president in regard to the security of Israel, making sure that in our tough neighbourhood, Israel will be strong and secure.”
The additional funding for Israel requires US congressional approval before it is allocated – something it is likely to get.