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The US House of Representatives appropriations committee nearly doubled American funding for Israel's Arrow and short-range missile defense programs this week, bringing the 2008 total to $150 million.
The amount is not only more than last year's $135 million, but comes earlier in the budget process, holding out the expectation that the allocation will be increased considerably more by the Senate before the final bill is voted on in the fall.
Israeli officials see Wednesday's funding boost as a sign of growing awareness of the risks that Israel faces from the likes of Hizbullah and Iran, as well as appreciation for the success of the Arrow program.
Column One: Iran, 2; Israel,0
'Arrow can fully protect against Iran' (May 30)
"We welcome this important decision by the House Appropriations Committee," Israel's Ambassador to the US Sallai Meridor told The Jerusalem Post. "This would support Israel's efforts to defend itself against the growing missile threats in the Middle East."
In previous years only the Senate has added to the Arrow funding request made by the administration - $70 million for each of the past two years.
"The Arrow program is one of the most advanced missile defense systems around and has been proven to work in tests," said Steve Rothman (D-|New Jersey,) a member of the appropriations committee who played a key role in pushing through the funds.
"It provides essential protection against ballistic missiles for Israel's civilian population, as well as US troops in the Middle East. In light of Iran's open hostility toward the US and Israel, I consider increasing the effectiveness of the Arrow system to be essential to our defense."
The $70 million added by the House includes $25 million for co-production of the Arrow in the United States and $26 million to explore ways to upgrade the Arrow's capabilities. Israel wants to improve the Arrow's ability to intercept nuclear warheads at higher ranges.
The last $19 million is directed at the short-range "David's Sling" program, which is currently being developed to guard against missiles traveling distances upward of 40 kilometers. Before the House addition, the administration had slated only $7 million for the program.
The House is due to vote on the defense budget bill next week, with the Senate expected to take it up in September. Despite widespread support for the measure, it could fall victim to a presidential veto if the funding gets tied to Iraq war restrictions unpalatable to the White House.
Also in Congress on Thursday, a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing was set to take up the United Nations's Human Rights Council's performance. The committee last month approved legislation proposed by Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minnesota) to end US funding of the council.
Coleman has said that the watchdog group's focus on Israel and failure to investigate other countries made it a "disaster" and that the council "has essentially one issue on its agenda - Israel. You've got countries like North Korea, Burma, Zimbabwe, where you have state-sponsored brutality, and what we have is deafening silence."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.