Obama supports Israel ahead of Romney visit
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WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama on Friday signed legislation to bolster U.S. military cooperation with Israel and highlighted release of $70 million for the Jewish state's missile defense on the eve of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's arrival in Tel Aviv today.
"I have made it a top priority for my administration to deepen cooperation with Israel across a whole spectrum of security issues," the president said before signing the U.S.-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act in the Oval Office. The bill signing took place before the start of the sabbath local time in Israel.
Mr. Romney has been critical of Mr. Obama's approach to Israel and the president has had public disagreements with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on such issues as limiting Jewish settlements in Palestinian areas.
Mr. Obama won 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, according to national exit polls, and Mr. Romney has been seeking to peel off some of that support.
The signing ceremony coincided with release of a White House statement recounting steps the administration has taken to strengthen Israel's security and was the latest move by Mr. Obama to emphasize his commitment ahead of Mr. Romney's visit. In the past two weeks, Mr. Obama has sent Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and advisers John Brennan and Thomas Donilon on separate visits to the country. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is scheduled to travel to Israel next week.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said the timing of the signing was coincidental in relation to Mr. Romney's trip because Congress sent the legislation to the White House last week and Mr. Obama had been traveling.
Mr. Panetta in May announced the Pentagon's plans for $70 million in additional funding for the rocket shield, known as Iron Dome. Mr. Obama on Friday said the program has been "critical" for preventing missile strikes inside Israel and that "we're going to be able to lock in that funding." The funds were transferred on Wednesday.
The U.S. authorized $205 million last year to buy Iron Dome installations. Iron Dome, built by Israel's Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd., intercepts short-range rockets fired by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel, according to Israeli and U.S. officials.
First Published July 28, 2012 12:00 am