The US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee approved $488 million more in military aid to Israel. The aid would go toward the development of missile interception systems.
The proposal for the increases was by the chairman of the committee, Republican Howard McKeon from California. The funds would be allocated in 2014 for the Arrow 3, which intercepts long-range missiles, and the Magic Wand which intercepts medium-range missiles. This is a larger amount than originally planned. The bill also allocates another $220 million for extra batteries for the Iron Dome defense system. Israel already has five Iron Dome batteries but the new funding would provide it with another five by the end of next year. The proposal must still pass the House of Representatives and later the Senate. The increase in military aid happens just as the US is struggling with economic issues at home, where there were cutbacks in the Food Stamp program benefits recently.
The US already provides $3.1 billion in military aid to Israel. Chuck Hagel, the Secretary of Defense, promised that this amount would not be reduced even though significant cuts are being made to the US defense budget. Israeli defense officials said that the decision of the committee and the promise of the defense secretary show the strength of the relationship between the US and Israel. Disagreements over the Palestinian peace process and Iran nuclear negotiations have not been reflected in an even symbolic reduction in US aid. This contrasts with the suspension of some military aid to Egypt because of displeasure with the military-backed government there.
Hagel also said that Israel would be the first US ally to receive the V-22 Osprey military aircraft.Hagel and Israeli defense minister Moshe Ya'alon negotiated a deal during Hagel's last visit to Israel. One Osprey will cost $69 million. The next group of the aircraft that come off the production line even though they had previously been assigned to the US marines will be allocated to Israel. A senior Pentagon official justified the decision on the grounds that Israel faced threats from the Sinai peninsula and Syria.
Hagel himself said at a speech in New York that "Israel will get six V-22s of the next order to go on the assembly line, they will be compatible with other [Israeli defense] capabilities". At the time of Hagel's nomination for Minister of Defense, pro-Israeli groups expressed reservations about the nomination.
The defense aid increase is happening just as Israel has considerably increased construction plans for settlements as well as tearing down Palestinian dwellings: Israel threw the already struggling peace process with the Palestinians into major doubt last week, announcing 5,000 new settlement units and following that up with a plan to demolish the homes of 15,000 Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem.
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