WASHINGTON — The sequester is set to cost Israel $155 million in defense assistance.
A senior staffer on the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee told JTA Tuesday that defense assistance to Israel would likely be cut by five percent, or between $150 and $160 million, out of the $3.1 billion Israel was to have been allocated this year, under the sequester, the across-the-board cuts mandated by 2011 legislation.
A pro-Israel official confirmed the number as $155 million.
An Israeli official said that the country’s government expected assistance to be affected by the cuts.
The congressional staffer said that missile defense programs, funded separately from the defense assistance, also likely will be affected. These include the Iron Dome short range anti-missile system that deflected over 80 percent of rockets fired at Israel during the last Gaza Strip war in December.
Earlier, Department of Defense Spokesman George Little said that newly appointed Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel promised his Israeli counterpart Ehud Barak that he would work to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge and would continue US support for missile and rocket defense systems in spite of fiscal constraints.
Barak was the first foreign counterpart to meet with Hagel since he took up the post last week.
Pro-Israel groups plan to push back against the Israel cuts specifically and foreign assistance funding overall.
Maintaining assistance at current levels has been a centerpiece of lobbying this week by thousands of activists who attended the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference.
Among the legislative items on their agenda is a bill, sponsored in the House by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and in the Senate by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) that would designate Israel a “major strategic ally,” a one-of-a-kind definition, and keep funding at current levels.
Israeli officials have said they are worried about the cuts, and have added that they don’t expect to be exempt from them.