As a cease-fire was announced in the week-long fighting between Israelis and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, President Barack Obama promised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday that he would seek additional funding from Congress for joint U.S.-Israeli missile defense efforts.
The House and Senate — whose benches are filled with pro-Israel lawmakers from both parties — are virtually guaranteed to approve any such request from the president. The missile defense aid would come on top of the roughly $3 billion in military aid that Israel receives annually from the United States.
In Cairo, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that the cease-fire would take effect Wednesday evening local time following two days of her shuttle diplomacy, which included meetings with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and Netanyahu.
Obama spoke by telephone with the Israeli leader earlier and urged him to accept an Egyptian cease-fire proposal, promising the United States would use the lull in fighting to help Israel halt the smuggling of weapons and explosives into the Gaza Strip and bolster its anti-missiles defenses.
“The president said that he was committed to seeking additional funding for Iron Dome and other U.S-Israeli missile defense programs,” the White House said in a written statement.
Several Republican senators praised the cease-fire but took a swipe at Obama for his announced “pivot” to Asia, saying the various fires burning across the Middle East required greater attention from the White House. Obama returned Tuesday from a three-day trip to Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia, during which he attended two summits with Asian leaders.
“The recent fighting in Gaza underscores that this is a moment in history when the future of the Middle East has never been less certain — and when the actions or inaction of the United States will be critical to determining what path this vital region takes,” said a written statement by Arizona’s John McCain, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham and New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte, all members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “What happens in the Middle East will impact America’s vital national security interests for the foreseeable future, and stronger, smarter American leadership is desperately needed. There is no pivoting away from that fact.”
In a separate statement, Connecticut independent Joseph I. Lieberman said that both regions are top priorities.
“The truth is, American leadership is indivisible and indispensable in both parts of the world: The president can attend a summit with our Asian partners at the same time he engages with our Middle Eastern allies to achieve a cease-fire in Gaza,” he said.
It remained unclear how much money the administration would request from Congress for Israel’s anti-missile programs. The House-passed defense authorization bill (HR 4310)for fiscal 2013 would authorize $680 million from fiscal 2012 to 2015 for Israel’s Iron Dome system, a portable short-range air defense system that proved effective during the Gaza fighting at intercepting and destroying short-range rockets.
Israeli has deployed four Iron Dome systems and plans a total of nine by mid-2013.
The fiscal 2011 defense authorization bill (PL 111-383) included $205 million for the anti-missile system. The administration also reprogrammed another $70 million from previously appropriated fiscal 2012 funds to help bankroll Iron Dome and other Israeli anti-rocket systems.
The United States is also helping Israel develop several longer-range missile defense systems, including the Arrow and David’s Sling.
The latest spasm of Gaza fighting has left more than 100 Palestinians and four Israelis dead so far.