Obama Urges Funds for Israel Shield

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Al Jazeera English

Obama Urges Funds for Israel Shield

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Barack Obama, the US president, has asked Congress for $205m to help Israel speed up construction of a new short-range anti-missile defence system, White House aides have said.

The so-called "Iron Dome" project is designed to intercept rockets and artillery shells from the Gaza Strip and neighbouring Lebanon.

The money would come in addition to annual US assistance to Israel.

"The president recognises the threat missiles and rockets fired by Hamas and Hezbollah pose to Israelis, and has therefore decided to seek funding from Congress to support the production of Israel's short range rocket defence system called Iron Dome," Tommy Vietor, a White House spokesman, told reporters on Thursday.

Though it could be years before it is fully operational along Israel's borders, Israeli officials have said the deployment of the system at a few initial locations could begin sometime this year.

'Unshakable'

"As the president has repeatedly said, our commitment to Israel's security is unshakable and our defence relationship is stronger than ever," Vietor said.

"The United States and our ally Israel share many of the same security challenges, from combating terrorism to confronting the threat posed by Iran's nuclear-weapons programme."

Al Jazeera's Patty Culhane, reporting from Washington, said sources told her that Israel had been working on the "Iron Dome" project for several years.

"A senior department of defence official tells me that recently, US officials saw a test of the project and were very impressed by it, and decided to give the money to help speed up production."

The move comes after ties between Israel and the US were strained by an announcement of more illegal Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem made during a visit to Israel by Joe Biden, the US vice-president.

In January Israel completed tests on its anti-missile system, and the next phase will see it being integrated into the army.

Produced by Israeli state-owned Rafael Advanced Defence Systems Ltd, the "Iron Dome" uses small radar-guided missiles to blow up Katyusha-style rockets with ranges of between five-70 kilometres, as well as mortar bombs, in mid-air.

Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said the funds sought from Congress would be the first direct US investment in the "Iron Dome" system.

"This funding will expand what they can produce and deploy, and how quickly they're able to do it," he said.

According to the US state department, US military aid to Israel in 2009 totalled $2.55bn. This will increase to $3bn in 2012, and will total $3.15bn a year from 2013 to 2018.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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