Senate looks to double funds for Israel's Iron Dome missile defense

A missile is launched by an "Iron Dome" battery, a short-range missile defense system designed to intercept and destroy incoming short-range rockets and artillery shells, July 14, 2014, in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod. Getty

WASHINGTON -- Congress is showing tangible support for longtime ally Israel as Gaza militants fire rockets, backing a measure that would double the amount of money for Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system.

The Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee approved a defense spending bill on Tuesday that would provide $621.6 million for Israeli missile defense, including $351 million for the Iron Dome system that intercepts short-range rockets and mortars. The system was developed by Israel but financed in part by hundreds of millions of dollars from the U.S.

During the last serious conflict between Israel and Hamas in 2012, the Israeli Air Force says the system destroyed 85 percent of the rockets headed towards Israeli towns and cities.

In the latest hostilities between the two sides, Iron Dome has once again been credited with preventing Israeli deaths. The first Israeli casualty was reported Tuesday after more than a week of fighting when Israeli police said a man in his 30s was killed by fire from the Gaza Strip. By contrast, nearly 200 Palestinians have been killed in strikes.

"It works," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., chairman of the subcommittee.

Since 1988 and the early days of U.S.-Israeli cooperation on missile defense, presidents have proposed a specific amount for the program knowing full well that members of Congress will increase the funds, especially after they hear from Israel.

During the past week, many U.S. officials have publicly supported Israel's actions.

Overall, the defense bill would provide $549.3 billion for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. The bill spares several of the weapons programs that the Pentagon had proposed scaling back or eliminating, including the A-10 Warthog, the close air support aircraft and the USS George Washington aircraft carrier.

Durbin emphasized research and development within the military. The bill would provide $25 million to fund a competition to develop a new domestic rocket engine. Durbin said reliance on a Russian-built version made no sense.

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