Iron Dome Defunding: A Timely Wake Up Call For Israel’s Commitment To Safeguarding Its Own Security

An missile being launched from an Iron Dome battery during Operation Guardian Of The Walls earlier this year. Photo: handout, Israel Defense Forces (IDF)

(Opinion) —

Last night, news swept through the Israeli twittersphere that the “progressive” wing of the US Democrat party had successfully pressured the party to remove a $1 billion pledge to fund Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.

Israel’s nemeses in the last minute legislative battle were unsurprising: the much reviled AOC and Betty McCollum. Other members of ‘The Squad’ threatened to vote against the bill. Their threats ultimately proved unnecessary.

The clause in question was a late addition to a bill intended to keep the US government funded. The money pledged was intended to restock the short range missile defense system, which saw extensive action during the latest escalation with militant factions (Iron Dome’s protection is limited to short range missiles such as those launched from Gaza and it has a 90% success rate). It requires progressive replenishment, ongoing funding to operate, and continued development to remain at the cutting edge of the battle with Hamas.

The cost of the high-tech Iron Dome system — which the US military recently decided not to buy for its own aerial defenses — is nothing short of astronomical.

Each interception burns through a staggering $100,000-$150,000 in cash.

If one needed a sobering reminder of the high cost of Israel maintaining its security, one need only look skywards during the recent flareup:

The defiant thud when Gaza-fired rockets are successfully destroyed mid-air is accompanied by a dramatic flash that creates an aerial theater that evokes an image of the battle between good and evil. The stunning visuals inevitably make the news during the endless rounds of escalation.

But seven interceptions can singularly burn through more than one million US dollars in the space of seconds. That’s another sobering thought.

The official Israeli reaction to the decision — and that from its most staunch “allies” — was as histrionic and knee-jerk as usual.

Israel’s current ambassador to the US, Gilad Erdan, retweeted a Jerusalem Post journalist’s claim that the “progressiveness” of ‘The Squad’ meant that they regarded it as “progressive to want rockets to kill civilians.”

AIPAC — the most influential pro-Israel lobby in the US — also quickly spun into propaganda mode (is it ever not engaged?).

In a series of tweets, the lobby claimed that “blocking funding for Iron Dome helps terrorists kill civilians.”

“Extremists in Congress are playing politics with Israeli lives,” it fumed, adding for emphasis that removing funding for a lifesaving defensive system was an “affront to our values” (at times like these, it’s unclear who AIPAC actually speaks on behalf of.)

All of this verbiage — like many words spilled about the conflict here — is likely for naught.

Today, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer pledged that a separate funding instrument would be progressed that would step in to fill the billion dollar gap left by the clause’s last minute scuppering.

So what will actually happen?

US taxpayers will end up funding the Iron Dome missile defense system.

The tussle will be soon forgotten.

But Israeli policymakers would be absurd not to view this as a serious foreboding of what’s to come.

Here’s the learning many of us in Israel are quietly hoping our leaders will draw from this debacle:

Israel sees its mission as being the fulfillment of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in their ancestral homeland.

It’s why I, and many other Diaspora-born Jews, have voluntarily chosen to make our lives here. The country and its success is inexplicable without understanding the context upon which it exists.

A core tenant of that belief has been Israel’s longstanding doctrine of non-reliance upon foreign actors for its security. This doctrine is typically condensed into the phrase “never again” which evokes the painful legacy of the Shoah.

When Israel sees a threat to its security — like the Iranian nuclear missile program — it has at times seen fit to defy the consensus of international opinion to do what it can and believes it must to safeguard its population.

It has done so before. It will do so again.

Israel is also never slow to boast to the world of its economic prowess; of how it has turned the stark desert sand into a blooming oasis of progress in fields as diverse as technology and the environmental sciences.

During his outgoing speech to the Knesset earlier this year, Netanyahu proudly boasted of how he and his colleagues in government had “turned Israel into a world power and in many respects a superpower.”

He spoke of how Israel had done this by nurturing its power in the economic realm, in the technological realm, and in the realm of security.

Which all begs the question:

Why is this regional superpower throwing a temper tantrum when a foreign government threatens to withdrawal funding for a missile defense system that protects its population (and not anybody else’s)?

Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of American military assistance since the second world war.

And yet, as a beneficiary, it is a rather ungracious one.

Israel offers the US intelligence cooperation, a friendly forward base in the volatile Middle East, and cultural support in many realms.

And yet it appears to do so under the expectation that American support for its and its military policies will be both absolute and unconditional.

This is absurd.

Thanks, in large part, to the massively divisive politics of former prime minister Netanyahu, Israel has emerged as a staunchly partisan issue in the US — allied closely with the Republican and Trumpian worldview.

To expect unyielding bipartisan support is therefore a strange aspiration.

Israel appears to have no long term strategy in place for how to manage the hostile militant governors of the Gaza Strip — the Hamas party, which openly calls for its destruction. Nor of what to do about the Arab population of the West Bank.

Hamas will continue to fire rockets into Israel. The Iron Dome is indeed life-saving. Therefore, it is an essential part of Israel’s national defense infrastructure.

If Israel is to remain true to its doctrine of absolute self-determination, it needs to have a contingency plan in place to ensure that the operation of this missile defense system isn’t reliant upon any other state actor. I would be extremely surprised if this hasn’t already been planned for. The document just might need an early dusting off and merit a renewed round of scrutiny.

For Israel to expect the United States and its taxpayers to endlessly bankroll its defense system — when the country isn’t poor and doesn’t share, in many respects, American values — is delusional.

The Iron Dome fracas will likely be quickly forgotten and brushed off as proof of the unrelenting animus of elements of the Democratic Party to the Jewish State. An alternative funding channel will be found. The money will arrive. And AIPAC and co will calm down until the next affront to their values.

Hyperbolic headlines that claim that AOC and her cohorts wish us dead will likely fill tomorrow’s newspapers in Israel. A much more probing reaction is needed, one filled with less anger and finger-pointing.

To fail to read something much more significant into this turn of events would be a huge missed opportunity.

That’s that the US government’s military aid towards Israel — like any form of aid — isn’t unconditional. It never will be. There’s a lesson to be drawn here that’s far more urgent and serious. It forebodes a time when the Jewish State — as it has before — will find itself singularly responsible for fighting for its survival.

We can’t expect it to be never-ending. Especially given that Israel has become a partisan issue.

And we can’t predicate any element of our national security upon its continuance.

Especially when our national security, and lives, are at stake.

That’s the gamble that AIPAC should be non-plussed about.

Perhaps we should even thank AOC and her cohorts for reminding us of this enormously valuable lesson.

For Israel to forego its responsibility to defend itself would be to forget one of the most important tenants of its ideology— at potentially enormous consequence.



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Daniel Rosehill

Daniel Rosehill

Daytime: writing for other people. Nighttime: writing for me. Or the other way round. Enjoys: Linux, tech, beer, random things.