WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration is asking Congress to approve $205 million to help Israel speed up deployment of a new short-range rocket defense system called the "Iron Dome," the White House said Thursday.
The funds are in addition to the $3 billion Obama requested in the 2001 budget, which are part of a larger 10-year, $30 billion 2007 military aid agreement.
Israel's "Iron Dome" system is meant to intercept rockets from the Gaza Strip and Lebanon.
Though it could be years before it is fully operational along those two borders, the missile defense system was expected to be deployed at a few initial locations sometime this year. The Obama administration decided to help fund the effort after being impressed with the system's effectiveness and determining that an infusion of funds now from Washington could allow deployment to unfold more quickly, said a senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss private thinking.
The request will be formally sent to Congress within days, as an addition to the administration's budget request for fiscal year 2011 (PDF), which begins in October. It will be funded by offsets approved by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Israel has had no system in place to guard against the thousands of rockets that militants have rained down on its southern and northern borders over the years, fired by Hamas militants in Gaza and Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon. Millions of Israeli civilians are within rocket range, and the military stepped up its quest for a solution after the country's 2006 war against Hezbollah, when 4,000 short-range Katyusha rockets bombarded northern Israel.
Iron Dome uses cameras and radar to track incoming rockets and shoot them down within seconds of their launch.
"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 program," White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said. "The president recognizes the threat missiles and rockets fired by Hamas and Hezbollah pose to Israelis."