An Israeli soldier walks past a launcher at an Iron Dome unit in the coastal city of Ashkelon, north of the Gaza Strip April 10, (Photo: Reuters).
US President Barack Obama signed a deal last week to increase military aid to Israel by some $236 million, despite a deeply troubled US economy. The aid comes in addition to the $3 billion aid package that the self-proclaimed Jewish state receives each year from the cash-strapped US taxpayer.
Egyptian observers note that the increase would effectively double the amount of US aid to Israel stipulated in the 1979 Camp David peace agreement between Egypt and the Hebrew state. This assistance is further supplemented by financing for other joint industrial and military development projects, as well as assistance for private Israeli weapons programmes.
Military experts in the Middle East view the stepped-up assistance as a payoff of sorts by the Obama administration for the financial and electoral support of the American Jewish community and pro-Israel lobby in next year’s US presidential race.
“The US gave Israel nearly $205 million as part of the Iron Dome [anti-missile shield] project, but the Palestinian resistance was able to overcome this by obtaining advanced weapons, such as the Hawk missile carriers seen in the recent Libya war,” Egyptian arms expert Brigadier-General Safwat El-Zayyat said. “Hawk missile carriers could quickly sink the Iron Dome system.”
Therefore, said El-Zayyat, the US plans to give Israel $236 million in fiscal year 2012 to develop three additional anti-missile systems, namely, the Arrow-2, the “David’s Sling” programme, and the medium-range Arrow-3.
“The two sides have launched a joint project to develop the comprehensive Arrow-2 and Arrow-3 missile defence systems, intended to shield Israel from Shehab-3 missiles. This is a joint project between US manufacturer Boeing and the Israeli arms industry,” El-Zayyat explained. “They’re also cooperating on the development of the less advanced ‘David’s Sling’ project.”
US funding for Israel’s Arrow defence system has been in place since the administration of former US President Ronald Reagan. In the years since, Israeli military officials have been able to secure increased US funding by exaggerating regional threats, especially in light of recent events in Syria.
According to El-Zayyat, the new missile defence system would likely be deployed somewhere between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, bringing to three the number of functioning anti-missile systems currently deployed inside Israel. The first of these is the Palm Halim Brigade, located north of the city of Ashdod, while the second is in Khudeira in northern Israel.
As part of Washington’s longstanding policy of maintaining Israel’s military edge in the region, Egyptian experts warn that the new missile system transcends mere deterrence and could be deployed for offensive purposes.
“Egypt and the region should be deeply concerned,” said Egyptian strategy expert Major-General Adel Suleiman. “There has been a revolution in military technology that has produced a rocket decades ahead of anything we possess.”
The latest developments come within the context of mounting tension between the West – led by Israel and the US – and Iran over the latter’s nuclear energy program. US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, who has long enjoyed close relations with Israel, has recently claimed that Iran could acquire nuclear weapons within one year.
Neither Washington nor Tel Aviv, meanwhile, is ruling out the possibility of a military attack on the Islamic republic. There has also been talk about a possible attack on Iran by Israel in conjunction with the western NATO alliance.
“Israel might even decide to go it alone,” said El-Zayyat. “But if Israel were to attack Iran unilaterally, the US would no doubt join the conflict [on Israel’s side] the very next day.”
Suleiman, for his part, asserted: “If Tel Aviv attacks Iran, which it has been threatening to do for the last five years, this means that Israel must be in possession of weapons and arms systems just as advanced as those available to NATO member states or the US – if not more so.”
Iran is currently holding extensive ten-day military manoeuvres in and around the Persian Gulf, including the strategic Strait of Hormuz. Suleiman believes the war games are meant to send a message to Iran’s foes that any military attack on the country would be met with force.
“We’re now facing a psychological war by all sides,” said Suleiman. “Egypt should be deeply concerned about these strategic developments and the new regional security environment that will guarantee Israel’s continued military supremacy.”
“Other states in the region should also be wary,” he added. “Arab Spring countries must take advantage of the recent revolution in weapons technology and not merely stand on the sidelines of these important developments.”