An Israeli missile is launched from the Iron Dome missile system in Ashdod, Israel, on March 11. The U.S. Department of Defense intends to ask Congress to fund more of the missile systems for Israel. (Jack Guez / Agence France-Presse)
The U.S. Defense Department intends to ask Congress for hundreds of millions of dollars in grant funding to purchase additional Iron Dome rocket and short-range missile intercepting batteries.
Details of the planned funding package have not yet been determined, but U.S. and Israeli sources estimated that the request to Congress could exceed $500 million to cover production of up to 10 additional batteries.
Preliminary discussions were held in Washington last week between a senior Ministry of Defence representative and officials from the Office of the Secretary of Defense. An itemized Israeli request is expected to be presented to the Pentagon in the coming days, sources from both countries said.
“The Department of Defense has been in conversations with the Government of Israel about U.S. support for the acquisition of additional Iron Dome systems and intends to request an appropriate level of funding from Congress to support such acquisitions based on Israeli requirements and production capacity,” Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said in a March 27 email.
During the rocket attacks earlier this month, the Iron Dome system intercepted more than 80 percent of targeted rockets fired at southern Israel.
“The United States has previously provided $205 million in support of Israel’s Iron Dome short range rocket and mortar defense system,” Little said.
Israel has deployed three Iron Dome batteries and a fourth is in final stages of acceptance testing with the Israel Air Force’s Air Defense Command. The first two batteries were funded by Israel’s shekel-based defense budget while the $205 million appropriated by Congress last year were used to fund the third and fourth batteries as well as two additional batteries now being produced by an Israeli industrial team led by state-owned Rafael.
Israel’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, in a study last year, concluded that Israel required at least 13 Iron Dome batteries to protect populated areas from the growing rocket and short-range missile threat.
An Israeli industry source said Rafael has secured a letter of intent from Israel’s MoD for additional production pending clarification of funding pledges from Washington. He noted that Israel is capable of producing up to four batteries per year, which include a battle management system, launcher, interceptor missiles and a multimission radar by Elta Systems, a subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries.
Supporting Israel is a top priority of U.S. President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Little said.
In a March 27 statement, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak praised the Pentagon’s announced commitment for additional funding support for Iron Dome.
“The American decision is an additional manifestation of the deep defense ties between the United States and Israel. I praise the American government for its strengthened support for Israel’s defense.”
Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also hailed the Pentagon’s announced decision to request additional Iron Dome funding. Berman, a co-author of the Iron Dome Support Act submitted to Congress March 21, described the Israeli intercepting system as “a game-changer.”
In a March 27 statement, Berman noted the threats Israel faces from “incoming, indiscriminate terrorist rocket attacks” that are countered “by this cutting-edge system.” According to Berman, “Iron Dome is fundamentally shifting political, diplomatic and military realities on the ground, while saving lives of innocent Israelis.”
He added that the Pentagon’s statement of additional funding support “is a further step in the right direction.
The proposed Iron Dome Support Act authorizes Obama “to provide assistance, upon request by the Government of Israel, for the procurement, maintenance and sustainment of the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system for purposes of intercepting short-range missiles launched against Israel.”
“I am pleased that the President now acknowledges the need to increase funding to counter a deadly threat, and I look forward to working together to identify the additional resources necessary to help defend our Israeli friends,” Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement.