The measure enhances security ties between the two allies
Obama also announces U.S. funding for Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system
Mitt Romney travels to Israel on Saturday to meet with leaders there
Democratic sponsors of the bill deny any political mischief in the timing of Friday's event
The day before Mitt Romney makes a highly publicized trip to Israel, President Barack Obama on Friday signed a bill passed by Congress designed to increase security ties with the Jewish state.
Both the timing of Friday’s event and the presence of TV cameras opened the White House to accusations of political maneuvering in a presidential election year.
Obama’s schedule for this week, distributed by the White House on July 20, made no mention of the signing of the United States-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act. The measure won final approval from Congress on July 17, receiving strong bipartisan support.
White House spokesman Jay Carney denied any political intent with the timing of the bill signing, saying the measure passed last week and Obama was traveling from Sunday to Wednesday.
“The president’s been on the road, and today was the day to sign it,” he said Friday.
Romney, the certain Republican presidential nominee, hammered Obama’s Middle East policy in a recent speech to a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention. In particular, he accused Obama of failing to fully support Israel, an accusation the White House strongly denies.
In signing the measure Friday, Obama spoke of the “unshakeable commitment” of his government to Israel’s security and announced a previously authorized $70 million in U.S. funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.
Carney said Obama directed the Iron Dome funding in May and the money was transferred “in recent days,” leading to the announcement Friday in conjunction with the signing of the bill.
“This is a program that has been critical in terms of providing security and safety for Israeli families,” Obama said of the Iron Dome system. “It is a program that has been tested and has prevented missile strikes inside of Israel. And it is testimony of the leadership of folks sitting here that we are going to be able to lock in that funding to make sure that program continues and that we are standing by our friends In Israel when it comes to these kinds of attacks.”
He also announced that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta would travel to Israel soon to discuss additional ways the two nations can cooperate on defense and security issues.
A White House document issued after the event emphasized the steps Obama has taken as president in support of Israel to emphasize his commitment to Israel’s security.
Obama easily won the Jewish vote in 2008, but his sometimes strained relations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have raised concerns among pro-Israel Americans.
The act Obama signed Friday reaffirms “unwavering commitment to the security of the State of Israel as a Jewish state” and calls for providing Israel with “the military capabilities necessary to deter and defend itself against any threat or possible combination of threats.”
It also pledges a U.S. veto of “any one-sided anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations Security Council” and outlines U.S. support for an expanded Israeli role in NATO, increased intelligence cooperation and increased training for Israel’s air force.
The event reinforced the Obama administration’s support for strong ties with Israel as his GOP rival prepares to meet with Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders in a visit that begins Saturday.
Such preempting of messages and events is a time-tested trick of campaign politics. For example, Romney’s campaign has scheduled regular conference calls with reporters and events with surrogates on the same day, and often in the same city, as Obama campaign events.
At the signing, Obama was flanked by the two California Democrats who were sponsors – Sen. Barbara Boxer and Rep. Howard Berman – as well as top figures of American Jewish organizations.
CNN’s Lesa Jansen contributed to this report.