White House opposes extra funding for Israel missile defense

AIPAC ‘deeply disappointed’ by administration’s objection to Congress’ move to expand funding for Iron Dome, Arrow, Sling

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

A test of the David's Sling missile defense system (Defense Ministry)
A test of the David's Sling missile defense system (Defense Ministry)

WASHINGTON — The White House said Tuesday that it was opposed to a move by the House of Representatives to increase funding for Israeli missile defense procurement by an additional $455 million above the administration’s budget request for the 2017 fiscal year.

The announcement was greeted with disappointment by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) which emphasized the importance of the additional funding.

In a long letter sent to Congress on Tuesday, the Obama administration listed its numerous objections to the House’s version of the defense appropriations bill for the coming fiscal year.

The administration has criticized the bill for budgetary sleight of hand, complaining that it redirects funds from the overseas operations war chest toward other purposes in an effort to meet spending targets. In the letter, the administration complained that the legislation “fails to provide our troops with the resources needed to keep our nation safe.”

“At a time when ISIL continues to threaten the homeland and our allies, the bill does not fully fund wartime operations,” the letter continued. “Instead the bill would redirect $16 billion of Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funds toward base budget programs that the Department of Defense (DOD) did not request, shortchanging funding for ongoing wartime operations midway through the year. Not only is this approach dangerous but it is also wasteful. The bill would buy excess force structure without the money to sustain it, effectively creating a hollow force structure that would undermine DOD’s efforts to restore readiness.”

The objection to increased aid to Israel came at the same time that the administration criticized “the reduction of $324 million from the FY 2017 Budget request for US ballistic missile defense programs.”

“These programs are required to improve the reliability of missile defense system and ensure the United States stays ahead of the future ballistic missile threat,” administration officials wrote in the missive sent to Congress.

Without explicitly drawing parallels, the next sentence of the letter noted that “furthermore, the Administration opposes the addition of $455 million above the FY 2017 Budget request for Israeli missile defense procurement and cooperative development programs.” The administration had initially requested $103.835 million for Israeli cooperative programs.

AIPAC responded to the letter, issuing a statement that it was “deeply disappointed” that the statement of administration policy “criticized Congress for funding US-Israel missile defense cooperation.”

“On a bipartisan basis, Congress has increased funding above administration requests this year, as it has done for well over a decade,” the pro-Israel lobby noted. “These cooperative programs—including the Arrow, David’s Sling, and Iron Dome—are critical for Israel’s defense against a growing array of missile threats and make an important contribution to US missile defense programs.”

Former ambassador to Washington, and current Kulanu MK, Michael Oren seemed to criticize the administration’s stance and urge Israel to become more deeply enmeshed in the growing fight between Congress and the president over the defense budget.

“Congress reflects the American people’s will and transcends administrations,” Oren wrote in a cryptic tweet Wednesday morning. “Israel should not concede Congress’s ability to aid us.”

The Senate version of the House appropriations bill would more than quadruple the administration’s requested funding for Israeli missile defense, recommending just under $601 million.

“We applaud Congress for consistently supporting these key programs, and urge their full funding in both the FY 2017 National Defense Authorization and Appropriations Acts,” the AIPAC response concluded.

The Senate passed its version of the National Defense Authorization Act on Tuesday. Unlike the House version, the Senate version, which enjoyed broad enough Democratic support to defeat a presidential veto, did not subsidize additional spending through the Overseas Contingency Operations war account.

Speaking on the Senate floor last week during the debate over the National Defense Authorization Act, Senator Ted Cruz criticized the administration’s low levels of requested funding for missile defense.

“This has been an ongoing partnership between Israel and the United States of America, and yet, unfortunately, the Obama administration in its request submitted to Congress zeroed out procurement for David’s Sling and Arrow 2 and 3, vital elements of Israeli missile defense,” Cruz complained. “This is at a time when the threats are growing; the administration decided zero was the appropriate level.”

In the parallel National Defense Authorization Bill passed by the House, representatives authorized a total of $600.8 million in anti-missile defense programs for Israel. AIPAC applauded that move, which included $268.8 million in research and development funding for US-Israel cooperative missile and rocket defense programs; $62 million for procurement of the Iron Dome rocket defense system; $150 million for procurement of the David’s Sling missile defense system; and $120 million for procurement of the Arrow-3 missile defense system.

At the time, AIPAC “urge[d] inclusion of these vital funds in the final versions of the Fiscal Year 2017 defense authorization and appropriations bills.”

The House and Senate will now take their different versions of the defense spending measures to conference, where they will hammer out a final compromise version of each bill. The process this year is expected to be time-consuming given the gaps in the way that the House and Senate versions propose to fund defense spending.

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