The U.S. government raced to approve more funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system, which has been used extensively in recent weeks to shield Israel from rockets fired from Palestinian fighters in Gaza.
The Senate on Friday voted to authorize $225 million for Israel to replenish its stockpile of Iron Dome interceptor missiles as a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic group that controls Gaza, collapsed amid ongoing clashes.
The House of Representatives was expected to take similar action later in the day before both chambers of Congress adjourned for August recess.
The funding would be in addition to the $351 million already slated for the system in fiscal 2015, bringing the total to $576 million — more than three times the Pentagon’s initial request of $176 million for the technology in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.
Iron Dome is made by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and funded largely by the U.S. It’s designed to defend cities from short-range rockets and artillery fired from distances as far away as 43.5 miles (70 kilometers). Each unit contains 20 Tamir interceptors, which are fired after an EL/M-2084 radar detects a threat and a control center calculates the projected point of impact.
The technology is credited with helping to shield cities in southern Israel, including Ashdod and Ashkelon, from recent rocket barrages. During the first 10 days alone of Israel’s ground campaign into Gaza, known as Operation Protective Edge, the system blocked about 301 rockets, or 20 percent of the total during that period, according to Israel Defense Forces.
It’s not the only high-tech hardware Israel is deploying in its latest fight against Hamas. The IDF has for the first time deployed an unmanned ground vehicle known as the Micro Tactical Ground Robot made by Tel Aviv-based Roboteam to scour underground tunnels for Hamas-controlled weapons caches and command posts.
The U.S. Defense Department is also rushing to resupply munitions to Israel at the request of the Israeli Defense Ministry, including 120mm tank rounds and 40mm illumination rounds. The resupply comes even as the Pentagon on Friday issued a rare rebuke to the Israeli military.
“The civilian casualties in Gaza have been too high,” Defense Department spokesman Col. Steve Warren told reporters at the Pentagon. “And it’s become clear that the Israelis need to do more to live up to their very high standards … for protecting civilian life.”
Israel has come under criticism for the lopsided death toll in the conflict. While a few dozen Israelis have reportedly died, mostly soldiers, some 1,500 Palestinians have died, mostly civilians, according to press reports.
Tensions between the two sides escalated after a teenage Palestinian boy was killed following the abduction and killings in June of three Israelis teens.