WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Obama administration said it would rush $70 million to Israel in order to enhance its Iron Dome missile defense system, with more money in the pipeline.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said Thursday after meeting with his Israeli counterpart, Ehud Barak, that he was directed by President Obama to meet Israel’s needs for the system as indicated by Barak.
"My goal is to ensure Israel has the funding it needs each year to produce these batteries that can protect its citizens," Panetta said. "That is why going forward over the next three years, we intend to request additional funding for Iron Dome based on an annual assessment of Israeli security requirements against an evolving threat."
Legislation under consideration in Congress, shaped in consultation with administration officials, would deliver $680 million to Israel for the system, which earlier this year successfully intercepted rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.
The system was funded in part by $205 million transferred by the United States to Israel in 2011.
Barak in a statement said he "greatly appreciated" the announcement, adding that "This additional funding for the Iron Dome system comes at a crucial time for the Israeli people."
Barak is in Washington to discuss with Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton efforts to keep Iran from obatining a nuclear weapon. Israel has suggested it could strike soon, seeing Iran as close to achieving the capability of building a nuclear weapon. The Obama administration wants Israel to roll back any strike plans while it pursues a policy of sanctions and diplomacy to get Iran to make its nuclear plans more transparent. Iran denies plans to make a nuclear weapon.
Israel would likely seek to shore up its defenses against attacks on its borders ahead of any conflict with Iran, as Iran would be likely to pressure surrogates in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon to attack.
The American israel Public Affairs Committee also praised the Obama administration for its announcement.
"This funding will enable the Jewish state to better protect its citizens, thus preventing a wider conflict," AIPAC said in a statement. "Missile defense programs are a cornerstone of U.S.-Israel cooperative programs. The two allies work together to develop innovative technologies that advance the security of both nations."