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Israel Faces Growing Threat as Foes Improve Rockets

Improvements in war-fighting technology by adversaries make it more difficult to guarantee Israel’s security and require new approaches to maintain the country’s military edge, a U.S. State Department official said.

In addition to the potential threat should Iran develop nuclear weapons, conventional arms pose increasing dangers, said Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs.

“Advances in rocket technology require new levels of U.S.- Israel cooperation,” Shapiro told an audience at the Brookings Institution in Washington today. “Despite efforts at containment, rockets with better guidance systems, radar range and more destructive power are spreading across the region.”

Shapiro cited developments such as the “tens of thousands” of short- and medium-range rockets amassed on Israel’s northern border by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. These and other threats to Israel’s security are “real, growing and must be addressed,” he said.

The U.S. commitment to Israel’s security prompted President Barack Obama this year to pledge $205 million for a rocket-defense system called “Iron Dome,” beyond the annual $3 billion the U.S. provides Israel in military assistance.

‘Layered’ Defense

The system will be part of a “comprehensive, layered defense” against the threat of short-range rockets, which the Hamas militant group in the Gaza Strip also uses to fire on Israel, Shapiro said.

The yearly funding is part of a 10-year, $30 billion package of arms sales to Israel outlined in 2007 under President George W. Bush that increased funding by 25 percent a year over previous levels. At the same time, the U.S. pledged $13 billion over 10 years to Egypt and $20 billion to Saudi Arabia and five other Gulf countries.

The U.S. has sought for years to strengthen the defenses of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations against the potential threat from Iran.

Israel has expressed concern to the U.S. over a planned sale of Boeing Co. F-15 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported on July 4, two days before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak and other Israeli officials have raised the issue in meetings in Washington and Tel Aviv, according to Ha’aretz. Netanyahu and U.S. officials have declined to comment on the report.

American Help

While Netanyahu was in Washington, he met with Gates in part on the rocket threat. Gates pledged U.S. assistance in deploying systems to protect against ballistic missile and rocket attacks.

The $3 billion a year the U.S. spends makes up more than half the $7 billion annual total for foreign military financing spread among 70 countries, Shapiro said. Israel also is the only country allowed to spend 25 percent of the funding outside the U.S. so that the Middle East nation can shore up its own industrial defense capacity, he said.

Shapiro defended U.S. financing of Israel’s military development, citing a 2008 law that requires assurance of the country’s “qualitative military edge” and the benefit at home.

“We are fully committed to Israel’s security because it enhances our own national security and because it helps Israel to take the steps necessary for peace,” Shapiro said.

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