Senate Defense Bill Doubles Obama’s Request for Israel’s Iron Dome

An Iron Dome air defense system fires to intercept a rocket from Gaza Strip in the costal city of Ashkelon, Israel, July 5, 2014.

Tsafrir Abayov/AP

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An Iron Dome air defense system fires to intercept a rocket from Gaza Strip in the costal city of Ashkelon, Israel, July 5, 2014.

As rockets fly over Israel and Gaza, Congress is doubling its spending on Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. By Molly O’Toole

Just hours after an Egyptian offer to mediate a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas leadership in Palestine fell apart, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said the Senate is nearly doubling the Obama administration’s funding request for Israel’s Iron Dome, applying an adage that’s long guided the U.S. approach to conflicts in the Middle East: Hope for the best, plan for the worst.

“We’re dramatically increasing our investment in Iron Dome and Israeli missile defense,” Durbin, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Defense subcommittee, said Tuesday in a markup of the fiscal year 2015 defense appropriations bill. “We all pray that there’ll be a peaceful negotiation that ends the fighting in many quadrants of the Middle East, but until then, we need to protect innocent people where we can.”

The Senate version of the Department of Defense Appropriations Act asks for $621.6 million for Israeli missile defense programs, including $351 million for Iron Dome, to support the Israeli government’s request, according to the bill summary. The House version of the bill, which passed on June 20, makes an equivalent allocation for Israel’s Iron Dome, at $351.9 million.

Both requests are nearly double the $176 million that the Obama administration and Defense Department initially pegged for the program. And both requests fly in the face of the massive defense cuts imposed by sequestration.

“We looked at it and went back and forth, we talked to the Pentagon as well as [officials] from Israel, and we believe, particularly at this moment in time, that this is a justified expenditure,” Durbin told reporters.

But given that both chambers had already sought to double the administration’s funding request for Iron Dome in their authorization bills weeks ahead of the current conflict, the Senate’s similar conclusion in the appropriations stage may have as much to do with the political and economic benefit of a massive increase as it does with the latest fighting.

Lawmakers have pushed for more of the funding for Iron Dome to be spent on American contractors, and Israel has agreed to spend more than half of the funds provided by the Pentagon in the U.S., Bloomberg reported at the end of May. The Missile Defense Agency told Congress in a report that funds for U.S. contractors for components of the Iron Dome will jump from 3 percent to 30 percent this year and 55 percent next year, according to Bloomberg.

Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system has withstood more than 1,000 rocket attacks in the past week alone without a single fatality as of Monday evening, according to the Washington Post. Tuesday evening, Israeli authorities reported the first Israeli fatality. Israel’s own air barrage has hit more than 1,470 targets in Gaza and injured 1,390 over the past week. The Gaza health ministry said Israeli airstrikes have killed more than 185 people, 38 of them children and 27 women.

The Iron Dome system, one of the most advanced in the world, was developed with U.S. assistance – it is U.S.-funded and Israeli-built. U.S. and Israeli officials have reported that the Iron Dome has a nearly 90 percent success rate — making it attractive to other countries as well, such as South Korea, which has sought to acquire the technology.

“The Iron Dome system has drastically changed the dynamic in the recent fight between Israel and Hamas,” Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement after the markup.

In its FY2013 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress allocated more than $210 million for Israel’s Iron Dome. For last year’s defense authorization bill, passed in December, Congress allocated more than $220 million. The full Senate Appropriations Committee will markup the defense appropriations bill on Thursday, but no floor time has been set yet set for the NDAA’s consideration, which the appropriations bill typically follows. Despite urging from Senate leaders, with few work days left in the 113th Congress, many expect that NDAA passage will come down to the wire again, after the 2014 mid-term elections in November.

The Obama administration says it is hoping for a quick and sustainable resolution to the recent conflict and a return to the 2012 ceasefire. Late Monday evening, at the annual Iftar dinner in Washington, D.C., celebrating Ramadan, President Barack Obama said the administration was encouraged by Egypt’s offer to mediate the ceasefire, but stated, “No country can accept rockets fired indiscriminately at citizens.”

“We’ve been very clear that Israel has the right to defend itself against what I consider to be inexcusable attacks from Hamas,” he said. “At the same time … the death and injury of Palestinian civilians is a tragedy.”

“I believe further escalation benefits no one, least of all the Israeli and the Palestinian people,” he continued, adding, “The situation in Gaza reminds us again that the status quo is unsustainable and that the only path to true security is a just and lasting peace.”

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