Two weeks ago, the debate within the U.S. Congress about the proposed government funding bill was heavily covered. Most stories were concerned with the need to pass a budget in order to avoid a shutdown after Sept. 30 and a somewhat controversial proposal by House Democrats to raise the debt ceiling to avoid defaulting on payments for previously approved projects and policies. Lost in that shuffle, however, was the debate over a measure within the proposed U.S. funding bill that would continue funding for the Iron Dome Missile Defense system. This apparatus, employed extensively by the State of Israel since it was first used in 2011, has been instrumental in the Israeli military’s operations over the last decade. Funding for the Iron Dome is one of the central tangible features of the strategic defense cooperation between Israel and the United States.
In justifying their resistance to including funding for the Iron Dome in the bill, some House Democrats assured that it would be funded through provisions in defense spending bills in the near future. However, some voices against funding the air defense system seemed to oppose any aid for Israel. U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., cited a desire not to “sell arms to anyone who violates human rights.” Politico reporter Andrew Desiderio tweeted that U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., were “leading the charge” against the inclusion of the Iron Dome funding provision. Such statements by those seeking to delay or end U.S. funding for the Iron Dome reveal misunderstandings or willful ignorance about the system’s functions, the logic behind funding it and Israel itself.
Over the last decade, Iron Dome installations have been used to limit (and nearly eliminate) casualties and damage from the periodic barrages of rocket attacks Israel has consistently faced, whether from Hamas in Gaza or Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps from inside Lebanon and Syria. The system works by using targeted projectiles to destroy enemy rockets in the air before they reach their targets within heavily populated civilian areas or military installations. Its function is solely defensive, not for launching a sophisticated counterattack.
The Iron Dome’s accuracy in destroying airborne rockets has had a demonstrable effect of saving countless lives in Israel. Having been in Tel Aviv during the height of the most recent escalation between Israel and Hamas this spring, I witnessed firsthand the Iron Dome system’s prevention of death and destruction and the certain devastation that would have occurred had Israel not been able to quickly operate it on demand. Yet in this context, the fact of the Iron Dome saving many Palestinian lives is not discussed as often as it should be. With Israel’s enhanced capabilities of defending against rockets directly, counterattacks are less necessary and civilians placed in harm’s way by Hamas will be in less danger of military operations which Israeli forces already organize to avoid as many civilian casualties as possible. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the attack plans of Israel’s adversaries.
Apart from its tactical capabilities and importance in preventing the loss of lives and property damage, the Iron Dome is significant as a symbol of the U.S.-Israel relationship. Though his record on Middle East policy may be questionable and he often disagreed with Israeli leadership, former President Barack Obama recognized the importance of the Iron Dome in protecting Israeli civilians and understood that it wasn’t a weapon used to begin or escalate conflict. He assured that hundreds of millions of dollars went toward developing and maintaining this vital defense apparatus. The necessity of the Iron Dome was an acknowledged bipartisan consensus until only recently. The question must then be asked: What happened to that consensus?
The answer is that there has been a noticeable change of tone from the more progressive wing of the Democratic Party toward the traditional U.S. support of Israel. There was significant momentum earlier this year among progressive congressional thought leaders for halting U.S. military aid to Israel in the wake of its recent conflict with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Although the language previously used seemed to focus on arms sales, it has become clear that some are confusing — or intentionally obscuring — the image of the Iron Dome and advancing the notion that it is a weapon. In doing so, these members of Congress would bring about the erosion of nearly the entire military relationship between the U.S. and Israel, a foundational piece of the two countries’ historic, mutually beneficial relationship.
By turning the Iron Dome into a symbol of aggression and war, these progressives aim to show their beliefs about Israel to the Americans they represent. Earlier this year, in the wake of this spring’s conflict, President Joe Biden pledged to help Israel replenish its Iron Dome installments. Thankfully, it appears that his administration has the clarity to see through this smokescreen about what the Iron Dome and Israel represent. American voters must be able to intercept and prevent the damage caused by the lies of many of our elected leaders.
Noah Ente is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.