Democrats Back Israeli Missile Defense Program
The Democrats are continuing US support of Israeli BMD prgrams.
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) Aug 03, 2007
Republicans backed Israel's ballistic missile defense programs and industries to the hilt when they ran the U.S. Congress. But now that the Democrats have taken over, the good times for Israel look like they are getting even better. As we noted in our companion BMD Watch column earlier this week, the U.S. House of Representatives has raised U.S. financial support for Israel's Arrow and short-range missile defense programs for fiscal year 2008.
The sums involved are still relatively small -- $150 million. But as the Jerusalem Post pointed out in a report last week they were already higher than the $135 million that was approved last year, and the final figure is probably going to be considerably higher as the Senate is expected to approve a larger sum.
"We welcome this important decision by the House Appropriations Committee," Sallai Meridor, Israeli ambassador to the United States, told the Jerusalem Post. "This would support Israel's efforts to defend itself against the growing missile threats in the Middle East."
The paper pointed out that the sum was more than double the $70 million the House approved for the Arrow program in fiscal years 2006 and 2007. On both occasions, the U.S. Senate significantly increased that figure, which had been requested by the Bush administration.
The vote appears to be particularly significant because it indicated that Democratic Party leaders in the House are determined to continue the support for funding Israeli BMD programs that previous Republican congresses enthusiastically supported.
The Democratic-controlled 110th Congress has given far more support and funding for U.S. BMD programs in general than was previously expected, though it has sought to reduce or cut funding for more long-term or controversial ones. But last week's vote indicates that, if anything, the Democrats are likely to be even more supportive of Israel's BMD efforts than the GOP was.
On general defense issues, there would be no real surprise about this. Over the past 30 years, bipartisan support for funding Israel's military clout has grown steadily on Capitol Hill. Israel remains one of the biggest export markets for major U.S. defense corporations, and most major high-tech Israeli military programs depend heavily not just on U.S. funding but also on co-production and development deals with major American partners. While Israel only has a tiny industrial base, given its size and population, its high-tech R and D is among the best in the world, and giant U.S. corporations like Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Boeing are happy to be able to take advantage of it.
This is especially the case in the field of ballistic missile defense against intermediate-range threats because of the very real threat posed by Iran. Even more worrying in Israeli eyes than Tehran's crash drive to develop its own nuclear weapons is the almost explicitly genocidal language that current hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad regularly uses to discuss annihilating the Jewish state.
But there are other, long-term political considerations behind the 110th Congress's enthusiasm for boosting BMD aid to Israel. Despite the high prominence of neo-conservatives in the Republican Party and the powerful influence of Christian Evangelical supporters of Israel in the GOP, 70 percent to 80 percent of American Jews still regularly vote for the Democrats in both congressional and presidential elections.
Even President Bush's extremely high personal popularity and approval rating among American Jews over his enthusiastic support for Israel could not change that in the 2004 elections. Therefore, congressional Democrats are even more responsive to looking good on support for the Jewish state than Republicans are.
Also, for almost 40 years Democrats have been regularly hammered by Republicans in national perception as being soft or irresponsible and incompetent on national security issues. Being able to go on the record as increasing BMD funding rather than cutting it makes a good debating point to have on the record.
It is also far easier to increase the funding for Israeli BMD than for U.S. programs simply because the size of the programs and their cost is so much smaller. The House Democrats are seeking to slash hundreds of millions of dollars from longer-term U.S. BMD programs and from controversial ones such as building an anti-ballistic missile interceptor base on Poland -- a program that would cost at least $2 billion. Compared with that level of spending, authorizing $19 million for development of the Israeli "David's Sling" program to intercept very-short-range ballistic missiles and projectiles is small beer. The administration had only requested $7 million for that program, but the House approved an additional $12 million for it.
But though the House's move involves only relatively insignificant funds and doesn't come as a surprise, it shouldn't be under-rated. It serves notice that the new, quite wide-ranging bipartisan consensus on supporting BMD achieved by the new Congress also applies to extending it to Israel. The implications of this could prove to be good news for other U.S. allies such as Japan, India and Taiwan, too.
Finally, the pattern of military procurement funding in Congress always suggests that the way to get huge funds approved is to get tiny funds approved for seed R and D first. The Appropriation Committee's decision set the champagne corks popping in the Kirya, the Israeli Defense Ministry complex in Tel Aviv -- you can bet on it.