What happened: The US House of Representatives passed a bill yesterday to provide $1 billion to Israel to replenish the interceptors for the Iron Dome anti-missile defence system.
- The bill was supported by an overwhelming majority of 420 votes to 9. According to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the vote “reflects the great unity in Congress on a bipartisan and bicameral basis for Israel’s security”.
- The bill comes under the Department of Defense’s spending, meaning it is solely for defensive purposes. According to the text, the money is allocated to Israel “Provided, that such funds shall be provided to address emergent requirements in support of Operation Guardian of the Walls”.
- The vote was welcomed in Israel. Last night Prime Minister Naftali Bennett thanked Democrats and Republicans alike, for the “overwhelming support for Israel and for the commitment to its security. Whoever tries to challenge this support received an unequivocal answer today. The people of Israel thank the American people and their representatives for their steadfast friendship.”
- Similarly Defence Minister Gantz said: “US support for our missile defence system on a bipartisan basis is critical for Israel’s defence against rocket attacks conducted by terrorist groups such as Hamas in Gaza – but not only. Israel’s borders are surrounded by malign actors and terrorist groups who seek to harm our civilians and destroy the only Jewish State.”
Context: This separate vote was expedited after the funding was removed from a broader budgetary bill earlier this week. Several Democratic Party progressives refused to support the wider funding unless the allocation to Israel was removed.
- As the budget was a Democratic partisan bill, rejected by the Republicans, several progressive Democrats saw it as convenient tactical moment to expose the fault lines of support for Israel within the Democratic Party.
- The replenishment of depleted Iron Dome stockpiles was agreed by President Biden after he met Prime Minister Bennett last month and has been endorsed by other senior members of the administration including Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
- During Operation Guardian of the Walls in May 2021 Hamas and Islamic Jihad launched over 4,000 missiles towards Israel. The Iron Dome intercepted around 90 per cent of the rockets that were heading towards populated areas.
- Israel has long argued that not only does the Iron Dome save Israeli lives, it also limits the necessity of Israeli military action in the Gaza Strip every time a rocket is fired by Hamas or Islamic Jihad, thus protecting Palestinian lives too.
- The initial removal of the funding from the wider budget bill earlier in the week became a political debate inside Israel. Former Defence Minister Moshe (Bogie) Yaalon, wrote on Twitter: “The opposition by a group of Democratic members of Congress to approving the aid to the Iron Dome is the rotten fruit of the Netanyahu government, which meddled in American politics and supported the Republicans.”
- In response the Likud said: “The former prime minister, Netanyahu, was the person who worked out with Obama’s Democratic administration the largest American defence aid plan ever given to the State of Israel, of 38 billion dollars …. in Netanyahu’ time, Israel never failed a vote in Congress, including under Democratic administrations. Bennett and Lapid’s neglect cries to the heavens, particularly in light of the fact that President Biden is a true friend of Israel.”
- The US has supported the Iron Dome project for the last decade. In 2014 President Obama, following Operation Protective Edge, approved $225 million for Israel to replenish Iron Dome interceptors.
- Israel receives $3.8 billion in US military assistance annually, codified through a 10-year memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed by President Barack Obama in 2016. Of that, $500 million goes to missile defence annually. Last year Congress approved $73 million for the Iron Dome specifically.
Looking ahead: Now the bill has been approved by the House of Representatives, it will go to the Senate and then to President Biden for his signature.
- This new vote will reassure Israel that it still has strong bipartisan support, however the rift within the Democratic Party will be a cause of longer term apprehension.
- Another concern that if Iron Dome, a purely defence weapon, can stir controversy, what will happen when Israel seeks funding for offensive weapons in the future?