(WASHINGTON) The US congress has approved a USD 500 million aid package for the development of joint defense systems with Israel.
The package was approved as part of the USD 447.6 billion defense budget for 2007, which includes USD 70 billion for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The package comes in addition to USD 2.36 billion in military aid granted to Israel by the US each year.
Israeli officials welcomed the move, which they say underlines US confidence in Israel's defense industry.
The bill was passed by the House of Representatives on Thursday.
The Bush administration initially requests a USD 268 million increase to military aid to Israel, but the congress double that amount citing the importance of US-Israeli military cooperation.
USD 20 million of the package will be allocated to developing an interception system for short and medium range missiles. The system, known as David's Sling, will be developed by the Israel Armament Development Authority, Rafael, and US firm Raytheon.
The project is likely to be completed within six years, but both companies hope US and Israeli authorities will allocate the necessary funds for the deployment of interception batteries within a shorter time span.
In addition USD 35.5 million have been allocated to improve Rafael's LITENING airborne targeting pod, which is used by the US and Israeli air forces for precision targeting.
The Israel Aircraft Industry has been allocated USD 26 million to upgrade its Hunter UAV and USD 9.4 million to improve the Pioneer UAV model, a joint venture with a US firm.
USD 137 million have been allocated to develop systems to protect armored vehicles and tanks from anti-tank missiles.