83 of 100 US senators issue letter to Obama pressing for defense package increase to Israel

Current aid package to expire in 2018, lobbyist groups and Israeli and American officials requesting aid increase; Letter comes following United States military testing of Iron Dome and reports of possible purchase of Israel’s defense system

The Iron Dome System (Uri Lenz/Flash90)

The overwhelming majority of the United States Senate on Monday issued a letter to President Obama to increase the United States’ defense aid package to Israel.

Efforts by Israel requesting that the current $3 billion annual defense aid to Israel rise to $4-4.5 billion have been ongoing since 2015. The aid package, under a “memorandum of understanding”, is set to expire in 2018, Israel and American lobbyist groups and Israeli officials pushing for an increase in aid to be used for Israel’s continued advances in defense projects, mainly military and technology.

83 senators signed the letter, which was initiated by Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. The letter states that “In light of Israel’s dramatically rising defense challenges, we stand ready to support a substantially enhanced new long-term agreement to help provide Israel the resources it requires to defend itself and preserve its qualitative military edge,” Coons stating that “Israel could quickly find itself on the wrong end of the regional military balance.”

The current agreement expires in 2018, the Obama Administration to decide the amount of the next defense package agreement to be set for one decade. The White House stated on the defense package “We are prepared to sign an MOU with Israel that would constitute the largest single pledge of military assistance to any country in US history.”

In February, US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro explained Israel’s need for increase in the defense aid stating “We are now trying to consolidate a deal for the coming 10 years- what military aid we will give- a very complicated effort, which takes into account both Israel’s security needs and the budgetary limitations of the United States… I think we have an excellent opportunity to set out the costs and amounts of the aid for the next 10 years, and this will give the Israel Defense Forces time to do the planning and decide what systems they will buy with the aid.”

In the same month, reports surfaced that Prime Minister Netanyahu was to travel to Washington in March to meet with President Obama to address the aid package, Iran and other topics. Netanyahu cancelled his annual trip to the United States, reports claiming that President Obama had refused to meet with Netanyahu.

The United States’ defense aid to Israel funds development of Israel’s three defense systems, among many other programs including David’s Sling, one of three defense systems designed to defend Israel against rocket attacks. The Iron Dome system protects against short to medium-range rockets and the Arrow 3 missile defense system can intercept rockets beyond earth’s atmosphere with high altitude capabilities. It can intercept more than five ballistic missiles within 30 seconds after its launch and can reach altitudes as far as over 62 miles.

Military cooperation between the United States and Israel is strong, with numerous joint-programs and arms sales, the latest a possible sale of the Iron Dome to the United States military. Last week, the Unites States military tested Israel’s Iron Dome system. The request by the United States’ Senate additionally includes increased funding for US-Israeli cooperative missile defense programs.