Amid Iron Dome funding spat, Gantz says US remains Israel’s closest ally

Defense minister reiterates ‘shared values’ that underpin the relationship, days after Democrats shoot down earmark to reload anti-missile batteries

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz arrives at a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on September 5, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz arrives at a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on September 5, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz indicated on Thursday that a Congressional decision to nix funding for the Iron Dome missile defense system would not seriously affect defense ties between Israel and the United States.

Speaking publicly about the highly touted relationship between the allies for the first time since Democrats temporarily took $1 billion earmarked to restock interceptor missiles off the table this week, Gantz said that the countries’ ties would remain strong.

“Our alliance with the United States is the result of deep security ties, which are based on common security interests and above all on shared values,” Gantz said. “That’s how it has been and that’s how it will continue to be.”

The defense minister’s comments came two days after a group of progressive Democrats in the US Congress successfully lobbied their party leadership to nix a $1 billion earmark to fund Israel’s Iron Dome from a bill funding the US federal government.

While the Iron Dome funding has since been introduced in Congress as a separate bill, and is widely expected to pass, the incident has raised questions about the future of Democratic Party support for the State of Israel.

Gantz, who was speaking at an event for recent immigrants who enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces and honoring volunteers from the diaspora who assisted Israel in fighting the War of Independence 73 years ago, did not mention the flap explicitly.

Those who seek to defend the State of Israel will always need to “deepen our alliances with Diaspora Jewry, and with countries around the world — and first and foremost with our closest friend, the United States,” he said.

Rockets from Gaza, on right, are seen in the night sky fired toward Israel from Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip, on May 14, 2021, while Iron Dome interceptor missiles, on left, rise to meet them. (Anas Baba/AFP)

On Wednesday, Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai called for a “long-term fix” in Israel’s ties with the Democratic Party.

“Long-term developments in the US are changing the Democratic Party and strengthening the progressive and anti-Israel axis,” Shai said in an interview with the Kan public broadcaster.

He slammed former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his opposition to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, signed by Democratic president Barack Obama, and charged that the ex-premier “clearly went in the Republican direction.”

Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai arrives at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, on June 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“We need to invest in a long-term fix of Israel’s ties with the Democratic Party,” said Shai. “A giant gap was created between the Jewish community in the US and Israel… The Biden administration is friendly toward Israel. I’m worried about the distant future.”

US House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer spoke to Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Tuesday night, and reassured Lapid that the move was a “technical delay” related to discussions over the US debt ceiling and that the defense funding would be approved at a later date.

Hoyer underlined his commitment to Israel’s security, emphasizing that it was a view shared by the White House and Democrat House and Senate leaders, while pledging that the Iron Dome funding would soon be allocated, the Foreign Ministry said.

Jacob Magid and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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