In shadow of defense talks, Senate proposes increased Israel missile defense spending

The program will provide Israel with "better data and technology for the US to use in its own national security programs."

WASHINGTON -- Amid negotiations over a decade-long US defense package to Israel that have marginalized the role of Congress, the Senate Appropriations Committee this week recommended a major increase in spending on Israeli missile defense programs– quadrupling a budget line proposed by the Obama administration.

The increase, supported unanimously and across party lines in the committee, proposes $600 million in funding for fiscal year 2017– an increase of $113 million from last year and $454 million over US President Barack Obama's request.

Senators who spearheaded the increase, including Senators Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi), Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), said the program will provide Israel with "better data and technology for the US to use in its own national security programs."

The increased aid is primarily intended to "continue the modernization" of Israel's multi-tiered missile defense systems– already among the most advanced in the world– and funds are apportioned to specific programs. The Senate bill includes a notable increase in support for the David's Sling medium-range program, Israel's newest tier of advanced missile defense.

While $600 million amounts to an increase, it is not unprecedented: After Israel's war with Hamas in Gaza in 2014, Congress approved $620 million in missile defense funding the following year.

It remains unclear if or how action by Congress will affect Israel's negotiations with the Obama administration over a new, 10-year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), set to replace an expiring one and intended to guarantee Israel's long-term defense and qualitative military edge in the Middle East.Schermata 2016 05 31 alle 14.54.15

Video of the Week New Clashes Erupt Between Israeli Security Forces, Muslim Worshippers

Temple Mount temporarily closed to Jewish visitors after clashes with police

The Temple Mount was temporarily closed to Jewish visitors on Wednesday at the order of Jerusalem District Commander Yoram Halevy after Jews broke visitation rules at the holy site, police said. The Jewish visitors were expelled from the compound for bringing sacred books to the Mount and trying to pray there. After one of the individuals was cautioned, another took out a holy book, and the group was expelled. Meanwhile, renewed clashes erupted between protesters and Israeli security forces near the Lion's Gate in the Old City, where police used stun grenades against the demonstrators. A regular dynamic has developed involving clashes between Palestinians and Israel Police over the past several days near the Lion's Gate. Dozens of Palestinians are present at the site on a regular basis, urging devotion to the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount and condemning Israel. During Muslim prayer times, particularly the midday and nighttime prayers, hundreds and sometimes even thousands have been gathering there.

There have been outbreaks of violence during these periods, including stone-throwing or physical confrontations with the police. In most of these incidents, the police have been using stun grenades and sponge-tipped bullets to disperse the crowds. In a number of cases, journalists in the area have also suffered violence at the hands of the police. On Tuesday, Hassan Shaalan, a reporter for the Ynet news website, was struck by a policeman even after he identified himself as a member of the press. A group of Jerusalem-based journalists released a statement of condemnation over the incident and called on the police to permit reporters to do their jobs. The Jerusalem Police responded: "This involved an incident that took place in the course of violent disturbances of the peace that occurred in Jerusalem while the police were acting to remove the demonstrators from the street after some of them refused to vacate. The forces working on the scene are under constant threat to their lives.

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