As Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu visits Washington to urge US President Barack Obama not to ease sanctions on Iran, Israel is set to cut its spending on the Arrow 3 missile defense system that was designed to deal with Iran's long range missile threat.
Israeli daily Maariv reported on Monday that Israel will cut its spending in the joint US-Israel project following a US decision to withdraw some $55 million from the program due to budget cuts.
The newspaper said that in internal discussions leading to the decision some defense officials described the decision as "irresponsible," and "dangerous to Israel's security," but also quoted an official saying "discussions are ongoing and the decision is not final."
In February of this year, in conjunction with the US Missile Defense Agency, the Ministry of Defense successfully carried out a flight test of Arrow 3, otherwise known as 'David's Sling,' an improved version of the Arrow 2 system and part of a multi-layer defense system - which also includes the Iron Dome system and the Magic Wand.
Whereas Iron Dome deals primarily with short range missiles, Magic Wand, set to become operational in 2014 was built to deal with the medium-range threat. Meanwhile the development of the Arrow 3 was aimed specifically at providing cover from the most advanced Iranian missiles, which have a range of some 2000 kilometers. Israel is around 1200 kilometers from Iran.
Maariv said that the cut in budget would mean both a delay in Arrow 3's creation and a reduction in the number of rockets the system would be armed with. The move comes as a surprise to some observers, especially against a backdrop of heightened tensions with Tehran. The Arrow 3 was designed to be Israel's defense system against an Iranian nuclear warhead, the newspaper said.
Last week, the prime minister described Iran's peaceful overtures as a smokescreen for its continued pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Arrow 3 has seen hundreds of millions of dollars invested since 2011, with money going to develop the new program and also toward maintaining existing the Arrow 2 system until Arrow 3 is fully operational.
The 2011 budget approved by Congress for the Arrow 3 program totaled $108.8 million. This included a White House request for $50.8 million, combined with another $58 million tacked on by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.
Maariv reported that the last few weeks have seen messages coming out of the Pentagon to suggest that the US would slice the off $55 million from the budget. The decision in Israel to make parallel cuts amount to several tens of percent of the budget, the report said.