Democrats split over military aid to Israel

Progressives threatened to oppose spending bill if it included funds for Israel's Iron Dome

The Israeli Iron Dome missile defense system intercepts rockets fired by Hamas on May 14. (Anas Baba/AFP via Getty Images)
The Israeli Iron Dome missile defense system intercepts rockets fired by Hamas on May 14. (Anas Baba/AFP via Getty Images)
Posted September 21, 2021 at 12:07pm, Updated at 3:32pm

The decision by Democratic leaders to remove military funding for Israel from a draft continuing resolution underscored a split in the party amplified by GOP criticism of the move.

The $1 billion for Israel’s Iron Dome rocket-defense shield was in an initial version of the resolution but, after progressives said they’d oppose the measure if it was included, was deleted from a subsequent version that the Rules Committee is readying for a floor debate and vote.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., an advocate of the aid, said he'd put the funding in a separate bill and bring it to the floor later this week.

Democrats were deeply divided over whether to include the $1 billion in the continuing resolution or not.

"The Iron Dome protects innocent civilians in Israel from terrorist attacks and some of my colleagues have now blocked funding it," tweeted New Jersey Democrat Josh Gottheimer. "We must stand by our historic ally — the only democracy in the Middle East."

House Armed Services Committee member Elissa Slotkin of Michigan criticized her colleagues for "using a system that just saved hundreds, if not thousands, of lives as a political chit."

And one of the House's staunchest progressives, Wisconsin Democrat Mark Pocan, was notably not among the liberals who pushed to have the $1 billion for Iron Dome deleted from the bill. Pocan has become an ardent supporter of the system as a means of de-escalating the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. 

Republicans, meanwhile, were unsparing in attacking Democrats over failing to provide this latest installment of long-running Iron Dome funding. The Israeli government had requested the $1 billion in June, on the heels of Hamas rocket attacks on parts of Israel.

"By blocking funding to replenish Iron Dome, Democrats are choosing Hamas terrorists over our ally Israel," tweeted Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn. "When I visited Israel in June, I saw how Iron Dome saved Israeli & Palestinian civilians from Hamas rockets. It’s a shame the Left is again choosing terrorists over allies."

The GOP critiques also came from Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, among others.

Longstanding money font

This money for Iron Dome, whether in the continuing resolution or another bill, would come on top of more than $1.6 billion the United States has previously provided Israel to develop and build the system, which intercepts rockets such as those that Hamas has repeatedly fired into Israel.

The United States has an agreement to co-produce the Iron Dome, and the U.S. Army has also fielded a version of the system.

Since World War II, the United States has given Israel $146 billion in aid, mostly for weapons (not adjusting for inflation).

The United States and Israel have an agreement under which the U.S. government will allocate $38 billion from fiscal 2019 through 2028, including $5 billion for missile defense.

Purported defense exigencies

The proposed funding for Israel’s military is one of several noteworthy defense spending issues surrounding the continuing resolution, which was unveiled Tuesday. Once enacted later this month, the measure would fund federal operations through Dec. 3.

The continuing resolution would also include $2.2 billion for the Pentagon to support Afghans who fled their country last month. And the bill would allocate nearly $2 billion more for a variety of other Defense Department purposes, including to buy semiconductors and to help Defense Department facilities recover from natural disasters.

On other defense issues, the funding measure would include $885 million to continue to buy semiconductors used in military equipment from a facility that is going out of business.

Under the continuing resolution, federal programs would continue to spend money at the fiscal 2021 levels into the next fiscal year, except as provided in so-called anomalies such as the money for disaster relief and supporting Afghan refugees.

The bill also would allow the Air Force to spend what is necessary to procure integrated circuits for GPS ground equipment at the rates needed to operate the system. A House Appropriations Committee summary of the bill says this provision is needed to avoid negatively affecting “military-code positioning, navigation, and timing weapon system requirements.”

The Navy, meanwhile, would receive $565 million “for necessary expenses related to the consequences of severe storms, straight-line winds, flooding, tornadoes, earthquakes, wildfires, and hurricanes occurring in calendar years 2020 and 2021.”

The Air Force would net $330 million to respond to Winter Storm Uri, which struck last February. Its effects included widespread blackouts in Texas.

Afghanistan matters

The measure would require the Pentagon inspector general to review the U.S. military's transport of Afghans out of their country last month and the care being provided for them at Defense Department facilities.

The bill also would mandate that the Pentagon report to the congressional Armed Services committees 90 days after the spending law's enactment on the disposition of U.S. military equipment in Afghanistan.

Some of it was moved out of the country and some destroyed. Some ended up in the hands of the Taliban, though it is not clear how much of that gear is in working order or how effectively the Taliban can maintain it.

The measure also includes authorities to pay contractors for the cancellation of Afghanistan-related deals.  

Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.