An Iron Dome missile is launched near Ashdod, Israel in response to a rocket launch from the nearby Gaza Strip, on March 12. (Uriel Sinai / Getty Images)
TEL AVIV — Defense and industry leaders here are discovering that even in a U.S. election year — when bipartisan and bicameral support for Israel is at its peak — some American gift packages still come tied with strings.
In exchange for $680 million for Israel’s Iron Dome short-range rocket defense system, Washington wants “appropriate rights” to the Israeli-developed technology and U.S.-based coproduction of the system’s high-speed intercepting missiles.
According to language included in the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee’s markup for the 2013 defense authorization bill, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta may provide up to $680 million to Israel for Iron Dome procurement over the next 29 months.
The proposed funding, when combined with the $205 million authorized and appropriated under 2011 legislation, brings U.S. taxpayer investment in the operationally proven Israeli system to nearly $900 million. “Yet the United States has no rights to the technology involved,” the committee noted.
As a means of leveraging this investment, House authorizers require the director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) to establish a joint Iron Dome program office to formalize long-term cooperation.
“The committee believes the Director should ensure, prior to disbursing additional funds on Iron Dome, that the United States has appropriate rights to this technology, as is consistent with prior U.S.-Israel missile defenses cooperation,” according to the panel’s authorization bill markup.
House authorizers also want MDA “to explore any opportunity to enter into co-production of the Iron Dome system with Israel, in light of the significant U.S. investment in this system.”
In interviews here and in Washington, government sources say the Pentagon is pushing for similar caveats in markups to come from Senate authorizers as well as appropriators from both houses of Congress. The House defense appropriations markup is expected in the first half of May while the Senate version is expected at the end of June.
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.
Israeli sources say the proposed $680 million in additional funding will cover another four complete Iron Dome batteries, which include an Eltamultimission radar, Iron Dome launchers, Tamir interceptors and the system’s command-and-control unit.
In an Israeli Independence Day address on April 26, Defense Minister Ehud Barak raised “the initiative of the Pentagon, with the approval of the White House and with bipartisan support in Congress, to legislate additional aid to enable Israel to deploy 10 batteries and thousands of interceptors of the Iron Dome.”
Barak did not make reference to the stings that Washington is attaching to its support of Iron Dome, a system which he has repeatedly referred to as “the fruit of Israel’s indigenous defense industry.”