Barak thanks Panetta for US aid on Iron Dome

The defense minister said that US assistance will allow Israel to strengthen its defense against missiles.

Barak, Panetta (photo credit: Chad J. McNeely, US Navy)
Barak, Panetta
(photo credit: Chad J. McNeely, US Navy)
The United States will provide Israel with $70 million in immediate aid for the purchase additional Iron Dome rocket defense batteries, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced on Thursday.
Panetta made the announcement following a meeting with Defense Minister Ehud Barak at the Pentagon. Barak was in Washington for talks aimed at coordinating strategy with the US ahead of the second round of talks between western powers and Iran scheduled to open next week in Baghdad.
Panetta said that President Barack Obama had directed him to provide Israel with the $70 million, which Barak had told him was needed for Israel to meet its fiscal requirements for 2012.
In addition, he said that the US was in talks with Israel about the possibility of establishing a multi-year budget plan to assist Israel in purchasing additional batteries.
Since its deployment last year, Iron Dome batteries have intercepted over 90 Katyusha and Kassam rockets fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip. The new aid package comes after the Obama administration gave Israel $205 million in 2011 and comes on top of the $3 billion Israel receives in annual foreign aid from the United States.
Barak thanked the US for its support and said that Israeli-US defense ties had never been as strong as they were today under the Obama administration.
“The US decision to support further enhancing Israel's security is an important demonstration of the unbreakable bonds between the United States and Israel,” Barak said.
Rep Howard Berman, lead sponsor of the Iron Dome Support Act, welcomed Panetta’s announcement and said that both Republicans and Democrats equally supported the additional aid to Israel.
In an interview late Wednesday, Barak told CNN the United States and Israel are essentially "on the same page" over the Iranian nuclear program. "We say loud and clear, the Americans say the same, the president says the same - a nuclear military Iran is unacceptable," he said. "We are determined to prevent them from turning nuclear. And that no option except for containment, no option should be removed off the table in order to achieve this objective."
Barak said he believes embattled Syrian president Bashar Assad, a close Iranian ally, is "doomed" amid a popular insurgency now in its fourteenth month.
"I'm quite frustrated for the slowness of its collapse. I believe that he (Assad) is doomed anyhow. I believe that there is a need to raise our voices both for moral reasons and practical ... much more loudly," he said. The defense minister said it was important "that every possible step is taken by world community, by NATO, by the United States, by the Russians – Turkey could have a special role in it – to accelerate the whole thing."
Barak said he could envision a situation in Syria similar to that of Yemen, where in February President Ali Abdullah Saleh handed over power to his deputy after protests nationwide. Such a solution, he said, would see Assad and his associates step down, but keep his Ba'ath party, intelligence and armed forces intact.
From Jerusalem's perspective, Barak said, Assad's fall would deal a major blow to Israel's main strategic foe Iran. "It will be a major blow to Iran when Assad falls, they are now supporting him very actively," he said. "It will be a weakening blow to the Hezbollah and probably Islamic Jihad."