September 24, 2021
Here’s a primer on the Iron Dome debate – including the effort to block funding for it, and the danger posed to Israeli and Palestinian lives if Iron Dome does not exist.
- Who voted against restocking Israel’s Iron Dome?
After a disheartening debate about whether America should support a system that saves Israeli and Palestinian lives, the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a bill to restock Israel’s Iron Dome air missile-defense system by a vote of 420 in favor, 9 opposed, and 2 abstentions.
A small group of Democratic lawmakers forced the stand-alone bill when they refused to support a Democratic measure aimed at avoiding a government shutdown in the U.S. Why? They didn’t want it to include a provision that would continue to protect Israeli civilians from rockets launched by terrorists operating across Israel’s borders – funding to replenish the Iron Dome.
Eight Democrats – Reps. Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Cori Bush, Andre Carson, Marie Newman, Jesus Garcia, Raul Grijalva – and one Republican, Rep. Tom Massie, voted against the bill. Two Democrats—Reps. Hank Johnson and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez – abstained.
- What is Iron Dome and how does it save Israeli and Palestinian lives?
Iron Dome is an air defense missile system developed by two Israeli firms with support from the U.S. Emphasis on defense. It is never used to attack or retaliate and poses no threat to Palestinians.
The system has three components: a radar that detects incoming rockets; a command-and-control system that determines the threat level; and an interceptor that, if the system determines human lives or infrastructure are at risk, seeks to destroy the incoming rocket before it strikes.
According to Israeli officials, it is about 90% effective in stopping short range rockets fired by Hezbollah terrorists next door in Lebanon or Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists in neighboring Gaza. The system protects Israelis of all backgrounds and faiths.
For example, when Hamas and Islamic Jihad fired more than 4,300 rockets from Gaza into Israel this past May, more than 1,500 targeted heavily populated areas, including Israel’s largest city, Tel Aviv. Iron Dome shot down more than 90% of those rockets, greatly reducing the death toll. Even with Iron Dome, about a dozen Israelis were murdered. That number would have been much higher without Iron Dome.
It also saves Palestinian lives. Giving Israel a viable option to defend itself shifts its focus from a strategy of preemptive offensives against terrorists who hide among tightly-packed civilians areas to a defense system that intercepts real and present danger. It also reduces the need for ground operations in and around the civilian areas that terrorists use for launching missiles and rockets at Israeli civilians. Often ground offenses result in greater loss of lives.
- Why and how does America fund Iron Dome?
The U.S. and Israel have maintained a strategic partnership in the Middle East for decades. As the only true democracy in the region, Israel plays a vital stabilizing role, even though it is surrounded in part by hostile neighbors. As a senator, President Joe Biden first referred to the strategic advantage America reaps from its close partnership with Israel, unrivaled in the region, when he declared: “Were there not an Israel, the U.S would have to go out and invent an Israel.”
The U.S.-Israel relationship also gives Americans access to cutting-edge modes of defense. In fact, the U.S. Army has purchased two Iron Dome systems of its own.
For these reasons, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have worked to safeguard the Jewish state’s qualitative military edge (QME). Making sure the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has superior capabilities helps de-escalate the violence when Israel is forced to defend herself.
Even so, the political machinations of the annual budget process in Congress, as witnessed this week, made it hard to predict how much funding Israel could expect from year to year. A 2016 Memorandum of Understanding signed by President Barack Obama and supported by overwhelming majorities on both sides of the aisle, put an end to that uncertainty. The commitment of $38 billion in military aid over 10 years, including an unprecedented commitment of $5 billion for missile defense assured Israel that it could count on a steady stream of American support amid rising tensions. Likewise, it encouraged Israel to buy more of the advanced capabilities produced by the U.S. to support American jobs.
Costing around $80,000 a piece, the Iron Dome’s interceptors are only used when there is a threat to human life or infrastructure. This week’s proposed appropriation fulfills America’s annual commitment to Israel, but also reflects the heightened threat to Israel’s security in the past year alone, which has depleted the Iron Dome’s cache.
- What did a small group of lawmakers seek to accomplish by opposing this defense system?
We could use this space to talk about the false narratives on Instagram, the bully pulpit of Twitter, or the new antisemitism targeting Israel. But in this situation, it came down to a numbers game. The bill in question was a Continuing Resolution (CR) designed to keep the government funded and running past September 30. The bill also, controversially, proposed suspending the U.S. debt ceiling into December 2022.
With Republicans poised to vote against suspending the debt ceiling, Democrats needed every vote from their party for the measure to pass. A select group of far-left lawmakers seized this opportunity to make a statement. If the provision to protect Israeli civilians remained part of the bill, they would vote no.
Seeking to avoid a government shutdown, Democrats removed the provision and the measure passed on a 220 to 211 party-line vote, but then introduced a separate bill to fund Iron Dome.
Representative Tlaib tweeted her intention. “I plan on casting a no vote. We must stop enabling Israel's human rights abuses and apartheid government.”
In his own tweet, American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris pointed out the ramifications of her words.
Here’s what @RashidaTlaib is really saying:— David Harris (@DavidHarrisAJC) September 23, 2021
Let Hamas & Hezbollah fire deadly rockets at will against 9 million Israelis—Jewish, Muslim, Christian…
Let these terror groups pursue their aim of genocide.
Deny Israel the right to defend itself.
SAY NO TO HER UNBRIDLED HATRED. https://t.co/blNE5imUYV
U.S. Representative Ted Deutch (D-FL) took to the floor of the House to respond to his Democratic colleague, saying “I cannot allow one of my colleagues to stand on floor of House and label Jewish democratic state of Israel an apartheid state...my colleague who just besmirched our ally...when there's no place on map for one Jewish state, that's anti-Semitism.”
5. What is really the issue here? Why does this political maneuver matter?
It matters because Jewish lives matter. “Insisting that the U.S. deny Israel defensive capability implies that Israeli lives are expendable and smacks of antisemitism,” says Julie Fishman Rayman, AJC’s Senior Director of Policy and Political Affairs. Israel is the new scapegoat.
“This isn’t new funding, or unusual funding, or a precipitous increase in funding,” Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) noted in a tweet on Tuesday. “So to target Iron Dome now isn’t a genuine concern over the system, but rather the desire to attack something - anything - related to the State of Israel.”