U.S. President Barack Obama announced on Friday that he will be releasing an additional $70 million in military assistance to Israel, a previously announced move that appeared timed to upstage Republican rival Mitt Romney's trip to Jerusalem this weekend.
The stepped-up U.S . aid, first announced in May, will go to help Israel expand production of the Iron Dome short-range rocket defense system.
Obama made the announcement at the White House on Friday when he signed the U.S.-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act, which is meant to approve and expand military cooperation between the two countries.
The move comes on the eve of presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney's visit to Israel, where he is due to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, and the Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
Rep. Howard Berman, who was present at the ceremony, told Haaretz he "wouldn't read too much" into this coincidence. "The president has a certain number of days to sign a bill, and this one got to him only last week," he said.
However, veteran White House correspondents noted that arranging a ceremony for signing the bill was a special occasion indeed - most times the procedure is technical and not covered by the press.
Obama signed the bill using five pens, at his desk, flanked by Senator Barbara Boxer, sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, Rep. Howard Berman, the House version author, Lee Rosenberg, chairman of the board of AIPAC and Howard Friedman, the former Chair, as well as Richard Stone, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
"As many of you know, I have made it a top priority for my administration to deepen cooperation with Israel across the whole spectrum of security issues - intelligence, military, technology", Obama said. "And, in many ways, what this legislation does is bring together all the outstanding cooperation that we have seen, really, at an unprecedented level between our two countries that underscore our unshakeable commitment to Israel security."
Obama added that this week, the U.S. would announce an additional assistance for the Iron Dome batteries - $70 million.
"This is a program that has been critical in terms of providing security and safety for the Israeli families. It is a program that has been tested and has prevented missile strikes inside of Israel. And it is testimony to the leadership of the folks sitting here that we’re going to be able to lock in that fund to assure that that program continues and that we are standing by our friends in Israel when it comes to these kinds of attacks," Obama said.
He added that Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta would travel to Israel "to further consult and find additional ways that we can ensure such cooperation at a time when, frankly, the region is experiencing heightened tensions."
Obama referred to the terrorist attack in Bulgaria that "emphasizes the degree to which this continues to be a challenge not just for Israel, but for the entire world - preventing terrorist attacks and making sure the people of Israel are not targeted", stressing that signing the bill meant to send the message "how committed all of us are - Republicans and Democrats - as Americans, to our friends in making sure that Israel is safe and secure."
The bill affirms U.S. commitment to Israel as well as calling for an array of further actions to be taken to this end, some of which could be seen as direct support for an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear program in case the diplomatic negotiations currently taking place fail to get Iran to cooperate with the West.
Israel's ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren said in a statement, "The Government and the people of Israel express profound gratitude to President Barack Obama on his signing of the U.S.-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act."
Various Jewish American organizations praised the signing of the bill.
National Jewish Democratic Council President and CEO David A. Harris said, "With today's signing, there should be no doubt that this pro-Israel President stands squarely behind Israel."
Nathan Diament, Executive Director for Public Policy of the Orthodox Union, said, "The U.S.-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act bolsters these efforts further by extending loan guarantees set to expire at the end of this year, authorizing American military stockpiles in Israel, and improving military and intelligence cooperation, particularly in missile defense."
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