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Hamas Missile Hits Israel During Bush Visit; House Panel Cuts U.S. Missile Defense

By | May 19, 2008

      Franks Sees Chance To Reverse House Funding Cuts In Missile Defense Programs, Including One That Could Protect Israel From Iranian Missile Attack

      Congressman Notes Israel Predicts Iran May Have Nuclear Weapons Capabilities Within Three Years

      The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) cut funding for several missile defense systems including one that could help to defend Israel from missile attacks, even as Hamas unleashed a bloody missile attack on Israel during President Bush’s visit to Jerusalem.

      Palestinians launched a Katyusha-like missile from the Gaza Strip that hit an Israeli medical center in Ashkelon, injuring 14, including an eight-year-old girl and her mother.

      But even though HASC Democrats cut authorizations for missile defense programs, and then stiff-armed Republican attempts to restore the funds, that tough result in one battle doesn’t mean the war is lost, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), said.

      Franks, co-chairman and founder of the bipartisan Congressional Missile Defense Caucus, said there are multiple opportunities to undo the fiscal damage to missile defense programs. He was responding to a question from Space & Missile Defense Report during his appearance before a National Defense University Foundation breakfast at the National Republican Club of Capitol Hill.

      Franks noted that it would take an Iranian missile just 12 to 13 minutes to fly to Israel, adding that if the current Iranian nuclear materials processing program produces a nuclear warhead for a missile, it could "leave Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in ashes." In his view, "an attack on Israel is an attack on the United States." He added that Israeli experts are predicting Iran will have a nuclear weapons capability within three years. He and other lawmakers are pressing for a congressional mandate for the Department of Defense to produce a separate U.S. estimate of Iranian capabilities, such as when "the nuclear genie is out of the bottle," and an estimate of what military steps the United States could take to thwart Iranian efforts.

      What he fears much more than Iran launching a nuclear-tipped missile from its own territory against the United States, he said, is the thought that Iran might sell a nuclear- tipped missile to a terrorist group that could use it anonymously against Israel, the United States or others.

      "I am convinced the mindset of jihad is to create a nuclear nightmare for the world," he said, where even one atomic holocaust would leave millions of people around the globe wondering when and where the next nuclear attack would come. Osama bin Laden, leader of al Qaeda, has called upon his followers to acquire nuclear weapons, Franks observed.

      While on the one hand Israel cannot afford to permit such an existential threat to arise, the United States could nullify that threat by erecting a workable European Missile Defense (EMD) system, Franks said. "Any Israeli leader that will allow that to occur is … misguided," he said, adding that the United States must not permit Iran to place Israel in the crosshairs.

      And that means Franks and other missile defense supporters must attempt to reverse funding cuts to key missile defense programs, he added.

      On largely party-line recorded votes, the HASC rejected attempts to restore $232 million of the total $372 million cut from the planned EMD installation in the Czech Republic (radar) and Poland (interceptors in silos), a program led by The Boeing Co. [BA].

      The panel also voted down Republican-led attempts to restore $100 million that was cut from the Multiple Kill Vehicle, and also rejected a proposal to spend $5 million on studying the potential for a Space Test Bed defensive system.

      But Franks, decrying a growing partisanship in supporting defense programs, emphasized that those votes won’t be the last word on the issue.

      First, the defense authorization bill for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2009, now goes to the House floor, where further attempts can be made to restore the funds.

      That actually may be a better approach, Franks said, noting that the broader legislation that will be considered on the house floor will offer a far wider array of potential places for offsetting spending cuts.

      Under rules that Democrats adopted when they took over Congress last year, to avoid worsening federal budget deficits, any legislation to increase spending (such as restoring funds cut from missile defense programs) must be offset by equal amounts cut from other programs, or by revenues from tax increases.

      And the fight doesn’t end there.

      Franks said a fiscal 2009 defense authorization bill in the Senate, authored by the Senate Armed Services Committee, is far more hospitable to missile defense. Any bill the House produces will have to be reconciled with the Senate version, in a House-Senate conference committee to produce the final authorization bill.

      Finally, it’s a fact that it is not that final authorization measure, but rather a companion fiscal 2009 defense appropriations bill, that will decide how much money the Missile Defense Agency gets to spend on various missile defense programs in the next fiscal year.

      Last year, in writing the appropriations bill for the current fiscal 2008, the appropriators didn’t impose the deep cuts on some missile defense programs that House authorizers attempted.

      Franks recalled that former President Ronald Reagan said it is better to save citizens’ lives than to avenge their deaths.

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