WHITE HOUSE — President Barack Obama has committed another $70 million in U.S. military aid for Israel. The president has been concentrating heavily on Israel, as his likely election opponent prepares to visit Jerusalem.
Obama said Friday the additional military aid will help Israel expand a system called Iron Dome, which has blocked rocket attacks by Palestinian militants in Gaza.
“This is a program that has been critical, in terms of providing security and safety for Israeli families. It is a program that has been tested, and has prevented missile strikes inside of Israel,” said the president.
The new funding for Iron Dome is in addition to $205 million approved for the program last year. The $70 million addition was announced in May.
The president said last week’s deadly attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria underscores the need for more U.S. support for Israeli defense.
“The tragic events that we saw in Bulgaria emphasize the degree to which this continues to be a challenge, not just for Israel, but for the entire world - preventing terrorist attacks and making sure that the people of Israel are not targeted,” said Obama.
The president also signed legislation increasing overall civilian and military cooperation with Israel.
“In many ways, what this legislation does is bring together all the outstanding cooperation that we have seen, really at an unprecedented level between our two countries, to underscore our unshakable commitment to Israel’s security,” said Obama.
The president spoke just before likely Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney visits Israel. The former Massachusetts governor is to meet Sunday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Romney has vigorously criticized Obama’s policy toward Israel. At the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention earlier this week, Romney said the president has not shown Israeli leaders enough respect.
“He has undermined their position, which was tough enough as it was, and even at the United Nations, to the enthusiastic applause of Israel’s enemies, he spoke as if our closest ally in the Middle East was the problem.”
The Obama administration has focused a great deal of attention lately on Israel. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon and White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan all have visited the Jewish state in the past two weeks.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is to visit Israel on Monday to discuss Iran’s nuclear program and the unrest in Egypt and Syria.
A White House official said this week the president will visit Israel next year if he is elected to a second term. Obama stopped in Israel during his 2008 campaign, but has not visited since he took office.
Both the president and Romney are seeking support from Jewish voters, but recent polls show that a majority of Jews plan to vote Democratic in November.