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Israelis worry over U.S. defense cutbacks

TEL AVIV, Israel, March 31 (UPI) — Despite U.S. President Barack Obama’s pledge of “eternal” U.S. support for Israel, the Jewish state still worries that Obama’s heavy defense cuts will jeopardize military aid and Israeli weapons programs like the Arrow anti-ballistic missile system.

The Times of Israel reported that the bulk of the cuts affecting Israel made under the process known as “sequestration” that took effect March 1 “will come in Israel’s share of U.S. foreign aid funding.”

Estimates of what Israel faces run as high as $500 million.

Obama, when he arrived in Israel March 20 that his three-day visit, reaffirmed “the unbreakable bond between our nations” and “America’s unwavering commitment to Israel’s security …

“I am confident in declaring that our alliance is eternal, is forever.”

Two weeks earlier, new U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told outgoing Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak in Washington that Washington will maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge over its regional adversaries.

It remains unclear how the Obama administration will be able to justify such largesse while carrying out austerity measures that will adversely affect hundreds of thousands of Americans.

Israel receives $3.1 billion a year in U.S. military aid, the largest portion of a total U.S. package of $5.1 billion a year to several allies handled by the U.S. State Department.

“The cuts would have a dramatic impact on the Israel Defense Forces’ ability to meet its acquisitions plans for several military systems, including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, new C-130 Hercules transport planes and Namer armored personnel carriers under construction in the joint Systems Manufacturing Center in Lima Ohio,” The Times of Israel noted.

But that, it said, “may not be the most painful.”

The cuts are also likely to affect joint U.S.-Israel missile defense programs that are handled by the Pentagon. These include the high-altitude Arrow-3 system being jointly developed by state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries and the Boeing Co., and David’s Sling, under development by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems of Israel and the U.S. Raytheon Co. and designed to intercept medium,-range missiles.

The United States has allocated some $268 million for these programs in fiscal 2013, which ends Sept. 30.

With an anticipated 7.9 percent cut in U.S. defense spending, that would mean losing $21 million over the next seven months for that project.

The expected aid cuts for these and other Israeli missile-defense programs is causing particular apprehension in the Jewish state because of the threat of bombardment by thousands of missiles and rockets held by Iran, Syria, Lebanon’s Iranian-backed Hezbollah and various militant Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip.

At this time, the extent of the expected cuts for Israel remains unclear but this hasn’t stopped the Israeli and U.S. defense establishments and their defense industries from raising an outcry.

This, said Jason Ditz of the U.S. website, a longtime critic of Israel’s influence over policymaking in Washington, “is sure to have many in Congress leaping into action to ‘save’ Israel from losing programs their own military didn’t see as worth paying for.

“In the end, this is useful for both U.S. hawks and Israel’s own, as they can mutually scare-monger about the prospect of losing programs of little real utility and convince Congress to exempt them from the cuts.

“Whether this will work remains to be seen but historically Congress has caved in pretty quickly faced with such lobbying.”

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, one of the most powerful lobbying groups in Washington, has demanded special treatment for Israel, a politically risky move that would include special legislation to ensure aid flows to the Jewish state if other means fail.

That course carries significant political risks, as most Americans would deeply resent maintaining high levels of economic and military aid to Israel while they have to endure austerity measures.

“This is still premature,” an AIPAC source conceded. But he stressed: “We need to find a way to ensure full assistance.”

“Despite ongoing budget woes, it is critical that the United States live up to its aid commitment to Israel,” AIPAC declared.

“As our one reliable Middle East ally, Israel serves critical national security objectives. Any reduction in that aid would send the wrong message to Israel’s — and America’s — enemies.”

Copyright 2013 United Press International, Inc. (UPI).

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