slingshot - AP - Sept 3 2010
Using a 'slingshot'. Photo by AP
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Israel and the United States signed an agreement last month to continue development of a mid-range missile and rocket intercept system.

The U.S. announced the new agreement on September 27, one day after the end of the construction freeze in the settlements. The initial agreement that launched the joint development of the system, known as David's Sling, was signed two years ago.

The signing date was set ahead of time and had nothing directly to do with the construction moratorium. However, the agreement can be seen as further evidence that at this point, the U.S. government does not want to cool its security relations with Israel, despite its dispute with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over an extension of the freeze - or at least not while talks are still ongoing to solve the crisis.

The agreement to continue production of the system was signed for the U.S. by Gen. Patrick O'Reilly, director of the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency, and for Israel by Defense Ministry Director General Maj. Gen. (res. ) Udi Shani, Rear Admiral Ophir Shoham, who heads Israel's weapons research and development administration, and the Defense Ministry's accountant general, Tzachi Malah.

The system, which is being developed in Israel by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems with American assistance, is designed to intercept missiles with a longer range than those handled by Iron Dome, whose maximum range is 70 kilometers, but a shorter range than those dealt with by the Arrow, designed to counter ballistic threats with a range of more than 250 kilometers. It is expected to be operational in 2014.

According to the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency, the new agreement will continue joint efforts that began when the previous agreement, which funded preliminary development of the system, was signed in 2008.

The agency said in a statment that the new agreement will advance efforts to develop Israel's capabilities against short-range ballistic missiles and address "the threat posed by the types of inexpensive and easily produced short-range missiles and rockets used during the 2006 Lebanon War."

The statement also said the signing expressed the "continued commitment of the United States to Israel's defense." U.S. President Barack Obama announced last May that Israel would receive special funding of $205 million to equip itself with the Iron Dome systems made by Rafael. The allocation was approved by Congress, but Israel has not yet received the money.

So far, the Defense Ministry has approved funding for only two batteries, which Rafael is officially slated to deliver to the Israel Defense Forces in November - which is also when they will be declared operational.

However, as Haaretz reported in early 2010, the IDF will not deploy the batteries to protect communities in the Negev. Instead, they will be sent to Israel Air Force bases in the south, unless there is significant escalation in the Gaza Strip.

Moreover, despite the official announcement of the U.S. funding - which would be enough to purchase seven or eight batteries - the Defense Ministry has not yet given Rafael any orders for additional batteries or any funding to continue the project.