Obama evolves on Israel security bill just before Romney visit

Melissa Quinn Contributor
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On Friday, President Barack Obama announced the United States will provide Israel with an additional $70 million in funding for its short-range rocket shield, known as the Iron Dome — a program the president initially failed to fund in his 2013 budget requests.

The sudden announcement came on the eve of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s visit to Israel, who arrived in the country late Saturday night and plans to meet with President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday.

The Senate and House of Representatives had authorized more than $800 million for the Iron Dome, which experts have said is an effective tool for destroying crude mortars and rockets fired by militants in southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.

In May 2010, the House passed the U.S.-Israel Rocket and Missile Defense Cooperation and Support Act, authorizing the administration “to provide assistance to the Government of Israel for the procurement, maintenance, and sustainment of the Iron Dome Short Range Artillery Rocket Defense System for purposes of intercepting short-range rockets, missiles, and mortars launched against Israel.”

Between 2011 and 2012, though, the Obama administration suggested more than $15 million in cuts to Israeli missile defense. In the 2013 budget, the White House suggested more than $6 million in cuts.

“This is a step Chairman McKeon and the Congress have been urging the President to take for some time,” said Claude Chafin, spokesman for the House Armed Services Committee.

In February, chairs of both the House Armed Services and Foreign Relation committees sent a letter to the Obama administration questioning the defunding of the missile defense system.

“We respectfully urge, in the strongest terms, that you reconsider your budget request for this vital component of US-Israel defense cooperation,” the letter, signed by House Armed Services Chair Buck McKeon and House Foreign Relation Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, told Obama.

“We are deeply concerned that at a time of rising threats to our strongest ally in the Middle East, the administration is requesting record-low support for this vital defense cooperation program. Such deep cuts in your budget hardly seem to suggest ‘iron-clad’ support,” the chairs wrote.

Romney will spend several days in Israel, but President Obama has yet to visit the country since taking office.

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