American politics is like baseball: a curveball could come at you when you least expect it. Who would have bet that while pondering a $3.5 trillion spending bill, a provision to spend $1 billion in support of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system would become the hot button issue in Washington?
First to raise a stink was “The Squad,” a cadre of hard-left politicians led by Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.). They campaigned fiercely to defund authorization for Iron Dome support, but that upstart action was squashed with a 420-9 House floor vote. Then in the Senate, it was Rand Paul (R-Ky.) who derailed a fast-track vote for Iron Dome funding.
The safe bet is that Congress will deliver the money in the end. But why did this happen to begin with?
Clearly, the debate has little to do with the Iron Dome. The system is a technological success. By having the capacity to shoot down incoming missiles, Israel can defend its citizens against attacks primarily directed at civilian populations.
Funding the Iron Dome is also an investment in the U.S. economy. In March 2014, the United States and Israel signed a co-production agreement, enabling the United States to manufacture system components and provide the United States with increased access to Iron Dome’s technology. About 75 percent of the Iron Dome’s Tamir interceptor’s components are manufactured in the United States. This August, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Raytheon partnered to produce full Iron Dome interceptors in the United States.
Funding the Iron Dome diminishes the likelihood for escalation between Israel and the Palestinians and in other regions where the defensive missile defense system has been deployed. Funding for the Iron Dome is a much better buy than a heavy American footprint or the price of stopping and recovering from an all-out conflict in the region.
Calls to defund the Iron Dome are not only counter to Israeli interests, they cut against American interests. Removing investments from the Iron Dome undermines the U.S. economy and weakens Israel’s ability to defend itself, and, by extension, to defend American security interests in the Middle East. Israel is America’s eyes and ears in this turbulent region.
Defunding the Iron Dome system would weaken Israeli security and undermine the U.S.-Israel alliance. A key part of the security relationship between the two nations is the U.S. pledge to maintain Israel’s “qualitative military edge” over other countries in the region. One of the key ways the United States upholds Israel’s qualitative military edge is by providing security assistance, including funding for the Iron Dome.
There looks to be a big difference from what the Democratic Representatives sought and what Paul intended. Paul seldom misses an opportunity to make the case for fiscal conservatism. That is what prompted his opposition to the foreign aid bill.
“I support Israel,” Paul said during the debate over the measure. “I voted for hundreds of millions of dollars to support Iron Dome. I am glad the United States has a strong bond with Israel. But the United States cannot give money it does not have, no matter how strong our relationship is.”
Unfortunately, in trying to make this point by objecting to fast-tracking the Iron Dome funding bill, Paul allowed Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to create more approval delays and squeeze concessions from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y). Among those concessions was a promise to send hundreds of millions in aid to the Hamas-controlled Gaza strip.
Unlike Paul, the Squad had lots of things on its mind, though nothing to do with fiscal conservatism. They have been among the loudest cheerleaders for President Joe Biden’s multi-trillion-dollar spending package. Also, they are the hardest of the hardcore supporters of Islamic regimes and the Palestinians in the Congress.
There is, of course, nothing objectionable in caring about the future security and prosperity of Palestinians. A brighter future for the Middle East depends on economic integration, regional security, and political liberalization that fosters the peoples of this place living peacefully side-by-side. That future has to include the Palestinians.
This leaves a difficult question for opponents of the Iron Dome. How does removing protections for innocent civilians being showered by missiles furthers the cause of building a better future for the people of the Middle East? It doesn’t. And that raises broader questions about what the political far left is really up to.
We all know who fires missiles at Israel. It’s Hamas, Hezbollah, and, potentially, their master, Iran. Not only are they committed to political violence, their political philosophies are rooted in Islamist ideologies.
So here is the worry. Do the Squad and their ilk really believe the region would be better off if the Islamist voices from the Muslim Brotherhood to the Mullahs in Tehran were empowered?
The short answer appears to be “yes.” If true, then blocking Iron Dome is the opposite of a humanitarian impulse. It is a warning light that there is a deep sickness in the American left, like a black hole with a powerful gravitational force pulling the president’s party in a dangerous direction.
James Jay Carafano, a Heritage Foundation vice president, directs the think tank’s research in matters of national security and foreign affairs. Adam Milstein is an active philanthropist and a co-founder of the Israeli-American Council and the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation