The Obama administration will seek additional funding for Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile program in the wake of its successes in the most recent Israel-Hamas war.
“This spring, we announced that we would provide $70 million in fiscal 2012 on top of the $205 million previously appropriated to meet Israel’s needs for that fiscal year,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said at a Pentagon press conference Thursday with his Israeli counterpart, Ehud Barak. “And we will obviously continue to work together to seek additional funding to enable Israel to boost Iron Dome’s capacity further and to help prevent the kind of escalation and violence that we’ve seen.”
Panetta said Iron Dome intercepted 400 rockets during the eight day war, an 85 percent success rate.
On Thursday night, the Senate unanimously approved an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that urges the administration to assess further any Israeli need for additional Iron Dome batteries.
Panetta presented Barak, who is retiring, with the Defense Department’s highest civilian honor – one traditionally given to U.S. presidents when they leave office – the Distinguished Public Servant Award.
Panetta also presented Barak with a signed photo of the two men at an Iron Dome battery in Israel, in August.
Barak, in turn, presented Panetta with a model of an Iron Dome missile.
Barak is widely admired within the Pentagon establishment, and has been seen especially during his most recent tenure as defense minister in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government as the best address for U.S. pleas to Israel for restraint.
Many of the recent U.S. overtures calling on Israel to keep from striking Iran in a bid to head off its suspected nuclear program were made in representations to Barak.
The press conference, however, suggested that some fissures between the countries persist, particularly regarding Iran and Syria policy.
Panetta said he and Barak had discussed Iran and suggested that Barak agreed with the U.S. assessment that “there is time and space for an effort to try to achieve a diplomatic solution.”
Such a solution, Panetta continued, “remains, I believe, the preferred outcome for both the United States and for Israel,” Panetta said. “After all, Minister Barak is a battle-hardened warrior. And like so many great military leaders, he is fundamentally a man of peace, because he’s seen war firsthand. He recognizes that we must take every possible step to try to avoid war.”
Barak did not address Iran in his prepared remarks, but, pressed by reporters, implied skepticism of the Obama administration’s diplomatic gambits.
“Sanctions are working, and they’re more helping than anything I remember in the past, vis-a-vis Iran,” Barak said. “But I don’t believe that this kind of sanctions will bring the ayatollahs into a moment of truth, where they sit around the table and look at each other’s eyes and decide that the game is over, they cannot stand it anymore, they’re going to give up their nuclear intention. I don’t see it happening.”
Instead, Barak said, Iran would have to be “coerced” into ending the program, which he predicted would happen in 2013.
Barak also offered an implied critique of how the Obama administration was handling the civil war in Syria and the Assad regime’s brutal response.
“It’s criminal behavior on a global scale, what he’s doing to his own people, using jet fighters and helicopters and artillery and tanks, killing his own people,” Barak said. “The whole world is watching. And somehow, it’s not easy to mobilize enough sense of purpose and unity of action and political will to translate the – our feelings about what happens there into action to stop it. And that’s one of the lessons I have took from the last few years in the Middle East.”