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Israel not interested in co-producing rocket shield with America

| Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, 9:49 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Israel has agreed to give the United States the know-how needed to produce interceptors used by its vaunted Iron Dome rocket shield, but it is not interested in any proposed co-production, an Israeli official said on Thursday.

Using radar-guided interceptor missiles, the Iron Dome system shot down 421 of about 1,500 rockets launched from the Gaza Strip between Nov. 14 and an Egyptian-brokered truce on Nov. 21, according to the Israeli military.

The Iron Dome system is designed to engage only rockets headed for populated areas, often firing its Tamir interceptor in pairs.

Co-production is not an option “right now” because of a need for full-tilt output of the so-called Tamir interceptor for short-range rocket and mortar threats from Iranian-backed Hamas and Hezbollah militants in Gaza and southern Lebanon, said the Israeli official, who was not authorized to be named.

Israel fears that introducing a new supply line could interfere with its target for stockpiled missiles in case of renewed fighting, but it is open to reconsidering that eventually if the United States wishes to do so, the official said.

The United States has provided hundreds of millions of dollars to assist Israeli or joint U.S.-Israeli missile defense programs such as Iron Dome and others known as Arrow and David's Sling. Iron Dome was developed by Israel on its own.

The U.S. assistance for building a tiered Israeli missile shield is in addition to a 10-year, $30 billion military aid package agreed to by former President George W. Bush in 2007.

The Pentagon has not shown great interest in acquiring Iron Dome technology. But it has been pushed to do so by the House of Representatives' Armed Services Committee. The committee called this year for the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency to “explore any opportunity to enter into co-production,” in light of significant U.S. funding of the system, even though the United States has no rights to the Israeli technology involved.

In its version of a defense policy bill passed on May 27, the House voted to authorize as much as $680 million in additional funding for Iron Dome production from fiscal 2012 to 2015. If enacted, that would bring U.S. funding since 2011 to nearly $900 million to help Israel buy more batteries.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, speaking at a Pentagon news conference on Thursday with his Israeli counterpart, Ehud Barak, hailed Iron Dome's overall success rate in the eight-day Gaza fighting, which he put at roughly 85 percent.

A Pentagon spokeswoman, Army Lt. Col. Elizabeth Robbins, said on Thursday that the Defense Department saw “possible opportunities” for Iron Dome co-production.

Some experts have suggested the United States might eventually seek such technology to protect zones in combat situations like Afghanistan. Separately, Israel reportedly has made efforts to export Iron Dome to countries in Asia, including Singapore.

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