(photo credit: AP)
US President George W. Bush pledged his commitment to Israeli leaders during his visit to Jerusalem last week to obtain the necessary funding for the development and production of Israel's Arrow 3 ballistic missile defense system, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Bush's pledge came during his three-day visit to Israel last week and amid reports that he was bringing a list of gifts for Israel, including advanced military platforms - such as the F-22 stealth fighter jet.
Senior defense officials told the Post on Monday that while no such platforms were offered to Israel, Bush did pledge his commitment to work in Congress to obtain the funding for the development of the Arrow 3. Defense Minister Ehud Barak discussed the Israeli request for funding with US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with whom he met in Jerusalem on Sunday.
Israel is seeking close to $150 million to fund the project.
The Israeli defense establishment and the Homa Missile Defense Agency decided last month to press forward with the development and production of the Arrow 3, a more advanced version - in terms of speed, range and altitude - of the current Arrow 2 version used by the IDF. Israel last tested its Arrow missile in February 2007.
The decision to begin development of the Arrow 3 was made despite a proposal by Lockheed Martin to purchase the THAAD (Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense) missile defense system it is developing.
Defense officials said the THAAD was currently inapplicable for Israeli needs and that an advanced model of the Arrow, made by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Boeing, would successfully counter the ballistic missile threat from Iran and Syria.
Defense officials said that if Congress approved the new funding by October the Arrow 3 project would be fully budgeted for 2009 and could be declared operational within a year. Development has already begun at IAI.
In an interview with the Post on Sunday, Pelosi said that Congress was committed to helping Israel retain its qualitative military edge over other countries in the Middle East. She noted that the House of Representatives passed legislation doing just that last week.
Under the House version, which still needs the approval of the US Senate before being sent to Bush to become law, future arms sales would need to make sure that Israel's military advantage was maintained. Among other measures, a presidential certification would be necessary. As part of that process, the legislation states, "Any certification relating to a proposed sale or export of defense articles or defense services under this section to any country in the Middle East other than Israel shall include a determination that the sale or export of the defense articles or defense services will not adversely affect Israel's qualitative military edge over military threats to Israel."
Asked about Israel's request specifically for new funding for the Arrow 3, Pelosi said: "I think we've already said that we were supportive of that."
Referring to the House legislation she said, "If you read this bill, it would be indicative of our intentions."
Hilary Leila Krieger contributed to this report from Washington.
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