U.S., Israeli lawmakers meet in first joint-hearing on missiles

WASHINGTON — For a few moments on Capitol Hill this week, Sally Minich and Aviva Grundland united in their grief and their message.

Testifying on Monday before what is believed to be the first-ever joint hearing of the U.S. Congress and the Israeli Knesset, Minich and Grundland urged the legislators to support missile defense systems to spare other families their ordeal.

Funding for missile defense development has been a hotly contested item on Capitol Hill this year as concerns grow over missile and nuclear weapons development programs in North Korea, India, Pakistan and Iraq.

During the 1991 Gulf War, an Iraqi Scud missile slammed into a U.S. Army staging area, killing Minich's youngest son, Frank, an Army reserve specialist. A few days earlier Grundland's husband, Eitan, died when a Scud missile destroyed their home near Tel Aviv.

"The same missile takes your husband, the father of your children and leaves you alone for the rest of your life," Grundland told the members of the Senate, House of Representatives and Knesset, who sat together on the dais in the House Armed Services Committee hearing room.

"No citizen in the world is at this point safe, especially in Israel, from missiles," said Grundland, who was on the phone with her husband when she heard the air-raid sirens sound. Moments later the line was cut off when a missile, one of 38 that landed in Israeli territory, struck their home.

"Today, we've lost the capability to protect the home front," she said.

And that is what brought American and Israeli lawmakers from across the political spectrum in both countries together.

"The missile threat to the people of Israel and the people of the United States knows no political boundary," said Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.).

Since the Gulf War, Syria has acquired more advanced Scud missiles, capable of carrying chemical and biological warheads into Israel, and Iran has tested medium-range ballistic missiles capable of hitting the Jewish state.

Despite initial favorable reviews of the Patriot anti-missile batteries used during the Gulf War, the system only hit about 40 percent of its targets. While more advanced systems are under development in both Israel and the United States, none will be ready for deployment for at least another 14 months.

Echoing the sentiment of the eight lawmakers at the hearing, Uzi Landau of Israel's ruling Likud Party said, "This is a situation which should be totally, totally unacceptable to all of us."

Israel and the United States already cooperate extensively in the area of missile defense. In fact, only hours before the hearing began, the Arrow missile-killing missile successfully destroyed a mock target off the coast of Israel in the first test to combine all of the systems of the joint American-Israeli project.

The United States will likely fund two-thirds of the estimated $1.6 billion cost of developing and deploying the missile.

But more must be done, the lawmakers argued. The ability of rogue states "to hit Israeli and American troops in the Middle East is far ahead of what we can do to contain it," said Landau, who chairs the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

For Israel, there is "a clear and present danger," added Ephraim Sneh, a retired general in the opposition Labor Party.

During their four-day visit, the Israeli delegation met with top American military officials to discuss merging other missile defense systems and increasing shared technology.