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US Senators Urge Substantial Boost in Military Aid for Israel

  • Chris Hannas

FILE - A missile is launched by an "Iron Dome" battery, a short-range missile defense system designed to intercept and destroy incoming short-range rockets and artillery shells. The senators say in their letter to the president they are currently considering increasing that Israeli missile defense funding in 2017.

FILE - A missile is launched by an "Iron Dome" battery, a short-range missile defense system designed to intercept and destroy incoming short-range rockets and artillery shells. The senators say in their letter to the president they are currently considering increasing that Israeli missile defense funding in 2017.

A group of 83 U.S. senators called on President Barack Obama to complete a new security agreement with Israel that would include increasing the $3.1 billion the United States now provides in annual military aid.

That money is allocated through a 10-year agreement that expires in 2018. Negotiations on a new pact are ongoing, with Israel believed to be seeking an increase to at least $4 billion a year.

The senators, in a letter dated Monday, did not specify how much they think Israel should receive, but said they "stand ready to support a substantially enhanced new long-term agreement."

Militant threats

The letter cited a number of militant threats facing the U.S. ally, including Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, al-Qaida and Islamic State in Syria, and militant Islamic groups in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

It also highlighted Iran's support for many of those groups and its recent ballistic missile tests as immediate threats to Israel's security.

"Given the extraordinary levels of weapons pouring into the Middle East, Israel could quickly find itself on the wrong end of the regional military balance," the letter said.

FILE - Rockets launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel are seen (at right) as a rocket by the Iron Dome anti-missile system (at left) is fired to intercept them, before a five-day ceasefire was due to expire, August 19, 2014.

FILE - Rockets launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel are seen (at right) as a rocket by the Iron Dome anti-missile system (at left) is fired to intercept them, before a five-day ceasefire was due to expire, August 19, 2014.

The bipartisan group of senators makes up most of the 100-member body.

Senator Chris Coons, who is leading the effort along with Senator Lindsey Graham, urged the Obama administration to act "swiftly."

"During a time of increased instability in the Middle East, it is important the United States and Israeli governments reaffirm their historic and unshakeable security partnership," Coons said.

The U.S. has allocated more than $17 billion in foreign military and police aid this year, according to data compiled by Security Assistance Monitor, including the $3.1 billion for Israel.

Afghanistan, with $3.8 billion, is the only country to get more. Egypt ranks third on the list with $1.3 billion.

Department of Defense spending

In addition to those funds, Congress often allocates more money within the lines of the Defense Department's budget for certain countries.

For 2016, that extra spending includes up to $206 million to Israel for three missile defense systems -- $40 million for the Iron Dome, $150 million for David's Sling and $15 million for Arrow 3.

FILE - A launch of David's Sling missile defense system, Dec. 21, 2015. The Defense Ministry said March 1, 2016, that the David's Sling system "will allow Israel to more effectively defend against the wide range of current and future threats to its civili

FILE - A launch of David's Sling missile defense system, Dec. 21, 2015. The Defense Ministry said March 1, 2016, that the David's Sling system "will allow Israel to more effectively defend against the wide range of current and future threats to its civili

Iron Dome is used to intercept short- and medium-range rockets fired from just beyond Israel's borders, while Arrow 3 interceptors fly beyond the earth's atmosphere and are meant to destroy incoming nuclear, biological or chemical missiles.

The David's Sling Weapons System (DSWS) is a joint U.S.-Israeli project that is meant to fill the gap between the two defenses. It defends against arsenal such as Syria's 302mm rockets and Scud B-class ballistic missiles.

The senators said in their letter to the president they are currently considering increasing that Israeli missile defense funding in 2017.

The Senate version of the Pentagon funding bill has not yet been made public, with the Senate Armed Services Committee due to work on it next month.

But on Monday, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee released the summary of its version of the legislation.

It called for a substantial increase in Israeli missile defense funding, to up to $332 million, with $62 million for the Iron Dome, $150 million for David's Sling and $120 million for Arrow 3.

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