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Pentagon chief confirms US will replenish Iron Dome interceptors

As Gaza region heats up again, defense secretary tells Senate hearing that details of Israeli request to restock air defense system still being worked out

The Iron dome anti-missile system fires an interceptor missile at rockets shot from the Gaza Strip toward Ashkelon, on May 19, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
The Iron dome anti-missile system fires an interceptor missile at rockets shot from the Gaza Strip toward Ashkelon, on May 19, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The US’s top military official confirmed that the Pentagon will replenish Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile batteries, as fresh hostilities threatened to put the system back in heavy use.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Thursday that the Pentagon would be sending Congress a budget request for more interceptor missiles, though the details were still being worked out.

“I’ve had this conversation with Minister of Defense Benny Gantz. We were together about two weeks ago and we walked through the details of what his requirements were,” Austin told a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on the Defense Department’s 2022 budget request. “We’re working to flesh out those details and you will see a request in the future.”

Earlier this month US Senator Lindsey Graham said that Gantz was planning on making a billion-dollar request to the Pentagon to replenish the arsenal of the Iron Dome missile defense system, after the air defense batteries saw heavy use during 11 days of intense fighting between Israel and Gaza terror groups in May.

Israeli soldiers take cover near Iron Dome interceptor missiles as the anti-missile system fires at rockets shot from the Gaza Strip at Israel, on May 17, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Iron Dome performed incredibly well, saving thousands of Israeli lives and tens of thousands of Palestinian lives,” Graham said. “I would imagine that the administration would say yes to this request and it will sail through Congress.”

US President Joe Biden pledged last month to replenish Israel’s stock of missiles for its defense system, bucking calls from some progressive lawmakers to reduce or end military aid to Israel.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin testifies before a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, Thursday, June 17, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Evelyn Hockstein/Pool via AP)

Asked if the Pentagon supported restocking Israel as a policy matter, Austin answered “Absolutely. We remain committed to supporting the defense of Israel.”

He also told the lawmakers that the Defense Department would “ensure that Israel has the capability to defend itself effectively and maintain its qualitative military edge.”

Hamas and other Gazan terrorists fired over 4,300 rockets at Israel during May’s flare-up of fighting, according to the IDF, which said the pace of fire was the highest ever.

Rockets from Gaza, on right, are seen in the night sky fired towards Israel from Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip on May 14, 2021, while Iron Dome interceptor missiles, on left, rise to meet them. (Anas Baba/AFP)

According to the military, 90% of the missiles fired at populated areas within Israel were downed by Iron Dome.

Austin’s comments came as tensions in the Gaza region showed signs of snowballing again, with IDF chief Aviv Kohavi reportedly saying he could cancel his planned trip to the US scheduled for Sunday. Kohavi is scheduled to meet with Austin and other top defense officials, though talks are expected to mostly revolve around countering Iran.

Overnight Thursday-Friday, Israel launched intense airstrikes on Hamas targets throughout the Gaza Strip in response to ongoing arson attacks from the enclave, for the second time this week.

At least eight fires were sparked in southern Israel on Thursday, four on Wednesday and more than two dozen on Tuesday by balloon-borne incendiary devices launched from the Strip, according to the Israeli Fire and Rescue Services.

Masked Palestinian members of the Islamic Jihad terror group launch incendiary balloons from Gaza toward Israel on June 15, 2021. (Atia Mohammed/FLASH90)

The airstrikes appeared to be the most significant retaliation by Israel to incendiary balloons in the three years since Palestinians began using the tactic.

“Earlier this evening, the chief of staff held a situational assessment in which he ordered a higher level of preparedness and for the IDF to make preparations for a variety of scenarios including a resumption of fighting in response to continued terrorist activities from the Gaza Strip,” the IDF said.

Jacob Magid and Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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