THE IRON DOME AND THE CAPITAL DOME An Exercise In Contemporary Political Reality
Anti Israel sentiment is prevalent in the progressive wing of the Democrat party, which is very much influenced by the BDS boycott movement. They view Israel as an illegitimate colonial power that has unjustifiably taken over Palestinian territory and imposed an aparthied regime on the Arab civilian population.
They have put this ideology into action by trying to limit Israel’s defensive capabilities. Progressive Democrats in the House led by Congresswoman Alexander Orcasia Cortez moved to block the transfer of one billion dollars from a bipartisan defense bill to fund the Israeli Iron dome missile defense system. This led the rules committee to go into recess. The move was always unlikely to materialize into anything more than a gesture as the vast majority of Democrats and the entire Republican party view Israel as a strategic ally. The funding was subsequently approved in the Iron Dome Supplemental Appropriations Act days after the money was removed from the government spending bill, following pressure from a group of Democratic legislators who were intent on demonstrating their party’s unconditional support for Israel. During the floor debate proceeding the vote, legislators from both parties spoke fervently in favor of approving the Act. As the Times of Israel reports “Republicans blame Democrats for capitulating to their progressive colleagues to remove the Iron Dome aid…Democrats shot back that the only reason they were forced to drop the $1billion provision was because not a single Republican was willing to support the spending bill in the first place”.
Congresswoman Tlaib (of Palestinian descent) was the only House Representative to deplore the Act, saying: “I will not support an effort to enable war crimes and human rights abuses and violence. We cannot be talking only about Israelis need for safety at a time when Palestinians are living under a violent apartheid system, and are dying from what Human Rights Watch has said are war crimes…The bill claims to be quote a ‘replenishment’ for weapons apartheid Israel used in a crisis it manufactured when it attacked worshippers at one of the holiest Islamic locations, the al-Aqsa Mosque, committing again numerous war crimes”. Supporters of Iron Dome regard such rhetoric as rather ironic, given that if Israel doesn’t have Iron Dome it would have to be more offensive when attacked by a barrage of rockets fired by Hamas in Gaza. As the Spectator elaborates: “The Iron Dome promotes stability for a straightforward reason: it lessens the chance of another ground war in Gaza. If Hamas manages to kill large numbers of Israelis, the government in Jerusalem would inevitably respond with force, possibly a ground invasion. Israel wants to avoid that, as do national security officials in Washington. So does the Palestinian Authority, which Washington favors over Hamas, and Arab-Muslim regimes that are developing strong ties with Israel (partly because of the Iranian threat). All of them know another Gaza war would benefit Iran, encourage support for Islamist movements, and threaten the whole region…These hard-nosed calculations are why US national-security officials unanimously support Israel’s missile defense and favor helping with the costs. The main cost is replacing interceptor missiles, used to repel Hamas’s attacks on Israeli towns, schools and hospitals. That’s why both the Trump and Biden administrations backed funding to replenish the interceptors“. Iron Dome has been highly effective in intercepting Hamas’s missiles. The sophisticated defense system can identify incoming missiles, neutralize those that would land on civilian areas, and allow the remainder to fall on unoccupied areas. However it is an expensive victim of its own success costing around $20,000 each time deployed compared to Hamas’s far cheaper rockets that range in the hundreds to produce.
The initial incident in itself highlights how Israel is quite vulnerable. First, it doesn’t have an economy of scale to independently produce such advanced weapons systems as Iron Dome. America has already invested billions of dollars in Iron Dome. U.S. military aid to Israel has increased in recent years. As stated in the Spectator:”The Squad’s effort to zero-out funding for Iron Dome is part of that larger effort to delegitimize Israel and weaken its economy and military. For those ideologues, it doesn’t matter that Iron Dome is purely defensive, used to protect civilians and lessen the chance of a major war. What matters is that it helps a nation they loathe defend itself. What’s so striking is that Speaker Pelosi initially conceded to those demands”. Michael Oren, the former Israeli Ambassador to Washington who is also a noted academic, told the Times of Israel that “military aid to Israel being used increasingly as a tool against Jerusalem by left-wing Democrats could be seen as a strategic vulnerability for Israel, which could have dangerous consequences for the Jewish state”. He went on to say “Israel’s leaders must consider whether being seen as vulnerable to pressure from American legislators lines up with its attempt to project an image of a powerful, self-sufficient state that can defend itself…When progressives call cutting aid, military leaders are thinking about how many bullets we can buy, how many jets we can buy, and not the strategic message of Israeli vulnerability”.
Furthermore, bipartisan Congressional support for Israel has been placed in an increasingly precarious position. As the Wall Street Journal states: “The funding was shot down because a growing number of Democrats oppose anything that would help Israel, even if it promotes peace. Supporters of Israel should take note. If Iron Dome can lose Democratic Party support, then there is nothing pro-Israel that won’t be in jeopardy in Congress”. Moreover, Progressives are gaining influence amongst the Democrats. As the Jerusalem Post reports “Hoyer, Pelosi and Schumer are close to retirement, while Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib and other members of The Squad are at the start of their political careers, in very liberal districts…the ranks of The Squad swelled in 2020, and Tuesday’s incident shows that its members are shrewd enough politicians to take advantage of the narrow Democratic majority in Congress, even if they are outnumbered by more moderate members”. Melanie Phillips writes in Israel Hayom: “Support for Israel among the Democrats is eroding far beyond the party’s far-left caucus. This may be a small faction in the House, but it represents a wider constituency that’s too large for the party leadership to ignore”. This episode has been extremely embarrassing for President Biden .
Its also important to consider that even Jewish pro-Israel organizations on the left, like J-Street, “are sufficiently divided that they have refused to issue any statement on Iron Dome”(Spectator). These divisions within American Jewry mirror the Democrats’ internal fight and they are increasingly becoming more vocal. While Evangelical Christians who predominantly vote Republican remain staunchly pro-Israel, the same cannot be said of US Jewry that mostly supports the Democrats.
by Rubin Rothler LL.B , LL. M