U.S. Congress Okays Aid for Iron Dome

The U.S. House of Representatives approved by a large majority Thursday night President Barack Obama's decision to grant Israel $205 million in military aid, for the purpose of procuring more Iron Dome missile defense systems.

The Israeli defense establishment estimates the funds will be sufficient for the production of eight or nine more batteries. Added to the two Israel has already procured, it is believed that the 11 potential batteries will constitute half of the amount needed to provide comprehensive protection for the communities in both the Galilee and the Negev.

The House decision was made quickly, after little more than a request by the president; 401 members of Congress voted in favor of the proposal, eight abstained. The special grant will be provided to Israel on top of the $3 billion annual defense assistance package.

Senior Israeli defense sources told Haaretz that it will be at least a year until a third operational Iron Dome battery is introduced into the air force arsenal. The recruiting of more soldiers into the missile defense units, as well as additional training and other preparations, means that the effective use of the systems are expected only by the end of 2011.

At this point the air force is in the stages of absorbing the two first Iron Dome batteries into its ranks, which are expected to be declared operational in a few months.

Because of the small number of batteries at this stage the air force intends to deploy them, initially, in air bases in southern Israel. Defense Minister Ehud Barak will make a final decision on whether the batteries will be permanently deployed near Sderot and Ashkelon.

Both Barak and director general at the Defense Ministry, Udi Shani, invested a great deal of effort in convincing the Americans of the need for aid for the procurement of the Iron Dome batteries. The original Israeli request was for $300 million, however sources at the Defense Ministry have expressed their satisfaction at the Obama administration's speedy response and the aid from Congress.

The Defense Ministry and the IDF will determine in the near future how best to use the funds - whether to allocate the money for the manufacture of new batteries, the acquisition of intercepting missiles, or the making of command and control systems.

In the future the Iron Dome batteries will be linked with the Magic Wand system, currently in development, and which are meant to intercept rockets and missiles in medium levels.