WASHINGTON — Rebuffing reports that US President Barack Obama’s budget for fiscal year 2015 gutted funding for the US-Israel missile defense partnership, Jewish groups said Thursday that the onus was on Congress, not the president, to bring funding up to previous years’ levels.
The budget presented by the president for missile defense is indeed slightly higher than numbers submitted by the White House last year for the same programs. However, in previous years, budgets have been further augmented by Congress allocating funding substantially above levels requested by the president.
An AIPAC source told The Times of Israel that the 2015 budget request is consistent with previous budget submissions and that the organization will work with Congress as the process moves forward to ensure that funding levels continue to support American-Israeli missile defense programs.
In the presidential budget proposal submitted for fiscal year 2014, the amount requested for the missile defense projects was $95 million, while this year, the president requested that Congress approve $96.8 million for the same budget item.
In previous years, including 2014, Congress added additional funds beyond those requested by the president.
In 2014, Congress hiked up funding to over $268 million, and one legislative analyst said that this year’s final number would be higher than that.
Jewish Democrats complained that comparing the $96.8 million in the presidential budget for 2015 to the $268 million ultimately allocated in 2014 was “comparing apples and oranges.”
Although the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations responded to initial rumors by calling on Congress “to restore full funding for the very successful groundbreaking joint US Israeli missile defense program,” Malcolm Hoenlein, the organization’s executive vice chairman, clarified that the organization merely hoped that Congress would “do again what it has done in the past” and add over $100 million to the presidential budget for the program.
“While we recognize the budgetary pressures, it is especially important this year as the United States and Israel face a proliferation of long- and short-range missiles in the hands of terrorist organizations and rogue states,” Hoenlein and Conference of Presidents Chairman Robert G. Sugarman wrote in response to the reports Thursday. “The seizure this week of a ship carrying the Iranian-supplied advanced missiles, destined for Gaza and Sinai terrorists, underscores the urgency and immediacy of expediting the development of missile defense systems.”
“This is what the president did last year,” Hoenlein told The Times of Israel. “$97 million is important in a time of budget cuts, and Congress came through” to raise the budget to well over $200 million.
“Especially given the events of this week, it is a time when this program, which benefits the US and our allies, is certainly important,” he said, referring to the Israeli capture of a shipment of missiles which, according to Jerusalem, was being sent from Iran to Gaza.
The US-Israel joint missile defense program includes research on the David’s Sling, Arrow 2 and Arrow 3 projects, which target medium- and long-range missiles.
The Iron Dome program, which is designed to intercept short-range rockets, is included as a separate budget item, as it is Israeli research that is funded by the US, but is not a joint research initiative.
National Jewish Democratic Council Executive Director Rabbi Jack Moline praised the budget, describing it as “another shining example of the iron-clad friendship between the United States and Israel.”
Moline had harsh words for right-wing groups who claimed that the budget had been reduced from previous years, warning that “it is important to exercise caution about responding to obviously partisan challenges that divert attention from both the truth and real issues. Too often, there are those among us who seek to manipulate the facts in order to confuse and frighten the public. We would gently remind our friends to be wary of attempts to do so.”
On Wednesday, the Republican Jewish Committee issued a press release warning that Obama’s proposed 2015 budget would “slash nearly $200 million from Israeli Cooperative Programs, joint US-Israel missile defense projects including the Arrow 2, the Arrow 3, and David’s Sling.”
Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matt Brooks said that Obama had proposed “significantly cutting US funding for joint missile defense projects with Israel at this dangerous time.”
Brooks added that this is the “third year in a row that Obama has proposed massive cuts for these missile defense programs,” and urged members of Congress “to fully fund all missile defense programs with Israel and reject the president’s unrealistic proposed budget for these programs.”
Although Obama’s budget request was slightly higher than for 2014, the presidential missile defense funding request is lower than the $106.1 million that the administration sought in 2012, and the $99.8 million that it requested in 2013.
The missile defense partnership has been one of the cornerstones of US-Israel relations in recent years. Earlier this week, while meeting with Obama, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel was “deeply grateful” for working “very closely on critically important issues — security, intelligence-sharing, missile defense.”