US House approves $1 billion for Israel’s Iron Dome after months-long delay

Bennett welcomes replenishment of ‘life-saving’ system; Defense Minister Gantz hails ‘critical security and missile defense’ for citizens

Iron Dome in action, on May 13, 2021. (Avichai Socher/IDF)
Iron Dome in action, on May 13, 2021. (Avichai Socher/IDF)

After months of delay due to internal political disputes, the US House of Representatives on Wednesday approved an additional $1 billion in funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.

The money will fund interceptor missiles for the system, many of which were used to defend the country during last year’s conflict with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian terror group fired over 4,300 rockets at Israel in the space of 11 days, and Iron Dome reportedly intercepted 90 percent of those heading to populated areas. It was also used in previous rounds of fighting with Gaza.

The supplemental Iron Dome funding was folded into the $1.5 trillion omnibus spending package needed to keep the government running for the full fiscal year. Also included in the bill is the $3.8 billion in defense aid for Israel in line with the Memorandum of Understanding signed by former president Barack Obama in 2015.

The Senate will vote on the Omnibus Appropriations Agreement in the coming days, and it will need to pass by the weekend in order to prevent a government shutdown.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett expressed his gratitude to Congress for its “overwhelming commitment to Israel’s security and for passing the critical security package — including the replenishment of the life-saving Iron Dome.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz hailed the approval and thanked US President Joe Biden for his “unwavering support for the security of the State of Israel.”

“Thank you to the US House of Representatives for passing critical security and missile defense funding for Israel in the spending package,” Gantz wrote. “Iron Dome replenishment and missile defense will ensure Israel’s military edge, secure our citizens, and bolster US-Israel cooperation”

Gantz also thanked US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin “for his steadfast commitment to the extraordinary US-Israel ties and defense cooperation.”

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (right) hosts an honor cordon welcoming Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the Pentagon in Washington on June 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

In expressing his gratitude, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid singled out House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Stenny Hoyer for praise.

“The support that Israel received tonight in the American House of Representative is testimony to the strategic relationship between Israel and the US,” Lapid tweeted. “Thank you for the $1 billion of aid for the Iron Dome system and for the commitment to Israel’s security over the years.”

Also included in the omnibus is substantially increased funding for nonprofit security, a key request by major Jewish groups over the last year.

The House vote on the bill Wednesday came as stopgap funding for the government ends Friday.

The massive 2,741-page bill makes clear that the $1 billion is in addition to a separate $500 million in the bill for Israel’s missile defense. The $500 million in funding, brokered in the last months of then-US president Barack Obama’s administration, is part of a $3.8 billion annual defense assistance package for Israel that has been written into law.

It comes after progressive Democrats in the House last year insisted on considering the funding separately from another massive spending bill, a signal that defense assistance for Israel would come under much stricter scrutiny going forward.

Despite that fraught debate, the House overwhelmingly approved the standalone $1 billion for additional Iron Dome spending in September. The Senate was also set to push it through, when a single senator — a Republican this time, Rand Paul of Kentucky — used his prerogative to hold up the bill.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (left) meets with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Washington on October 12, 2021. (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)

The bill increases funding for nonprofit security from $180 million to $250 million, a hike that Jewish groups have been pressing for, especially after the hostage-taking in a Texas synagogue in January. At least two proposed laws are seeking further increases: Reps. Benny Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi and the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, along with John Katko, a Republican from New York, last week got the committee to approve a bill that would increase funding for the security grants portion of the security increase to $500 million.

The Jewish Federations of North America said in a statement Wednesday that it was “grateful for the increase in funding for nonprofit security in last night’s omnibus bill. This accomplishment is the culmination of months long advocacy efforts that we led.”

In the Senate on Tuesday, speaking to Charlie Cytron-Walker, the rabbi who saw his congregants through the hostage crisis, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz said he would introduce a bill to increase the funding to $540 million.

The Orthodox Union, the Jewish Federations of North America, and Agudath Israel of America are all longtime backers of the program.

“We will work with bipartisan champions of this program to ensure that it continues to grow until there is enough funding to secure every synagogue, church, mosque, and vulnerable nonprofit facility,” Eric Fingerhut, CEO of the JFNA, said in a statement.

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)

Other funding backed by Jewish groups in the omnibus includes $6 million for assisting elderly Holocaust survivors and $5 million to streamline and improve the tracking of hate crimes.

The bill also includes the Israel Normalization Act, allocating funds to help strengthen and expand the Abraham Accords Israel has signed with several of its Arab neighbors. The legislation will include language supporting a two-state solution, which had been the reason why Republican Senator Ted Cruz was blocking the bill from advancing for months.

The omnibus package will also include $50 million in funding for the Middle East Peace Partnership Act, which grants $250 million in Congressional funding over five years for Israeli-Palestinian dialogue programs and Palestinian business development.

The package includes $219 million for the Economic Security Fund, which supports humanitarian projects for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This is the largest amount since 2015. The Palestinian Authority security forces will also receive $40 million in US aid from the bill.

Besides keeping the government open, there is added urgency this year because the omnibus bill includes nearly $14 billion in emergency funding for Ukraine, as the country fends off a Russian invasion. Schumer, who is Jewish, called the situation in Ukraine “a Holocaust” on Tuesday.

Jewish groups also will back the assistance for Ukraine. “As someone who came to the United States as a Ukrainian refugee, I can attest to how important and life-changing refugee support can be during times of crisis,” said Elana Broitman, the JFNA’s vice president for public affairs.

Spending bills are exempt from some of the Senate rules that can obstruct other bills: They need a simple majority of 51 and not the filibuster-proof 60 votes, and no single senator can hold them up. Additionally, Schumer brought in Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to help shape the bill in hopes of getting bipartisan support.

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