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US House Democrats remove $1bn fund for Israel's Iron Dome from budget bill

Democratic leadership bows to pressure from progressive lawmakers, plans to introduce a stand-alone bill later this week to fund the aerial defence system
US Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (R) and Ayanna Pressley (L), seen here on 21 September in Washington DC, are said to be behind the force that removed funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defence system from a major budget bill (AFP)

US House Democrats have removed $1bn in military funding for Israel from a major budget bill after objections from liberal lawmakers, with the Democratic leadership promising to introduce a stand-alone bill later this week to fund the ally nation’s Iron Dome missile-defence system.

'I reiterated my commitment to ensuring Israel receives this needed aid & reaffirmed the importance of bipartisan support for Israel'

- Steny Hoyer, US House Majority Leader

Tuesday’s decision comes after the House debated legislation to fund the federal government through 3 December and raise the nation’s borrowing limit.

Some members of Democrat’s Congressional Progressive Caucus objected to a provision in a stopgap spending bill to provide the additional funding so Israel can replenish its aerial defence system.

The dispute forced the House Rules Committee to adjourn briefly before leaders of the Appropriations Committee pledged that funding for the Israeli system would be included in a defence spending bill later this year.

On Tuesday evening, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said he would bring a bill to the House floor later this week that would fully fund the missile defence system, and he expected it to pass.

The House would use an accelerated procedure known as a suspension bill that requires a bill be approved by two-thirds of the members present, or a unanimous oral vote, he said. The Senate will then have to adopt it.

The lawmaker from Maryland said he had spoken to Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and expressed his “strong support” for Iron Dome funding.

“I reiterated my commitment to ensuring Israel receives this needed aid & reaffirmed the importance of bipartisan support for Israel," Hoyer said on Twitter.

In response, Lapid thanked Hoyer for his “friendship and unwavering support for Israel’s security” and said he had been assured by the US Democratic leaders that funds for Iron Dome would be transferred soon.

The top Israeli diplomat added that the removal of the funding was a “technical postponement resulting from the debate in Congress over the ceiling of the US budget deficit”.

Pressure from the 'Squad'

The call to remove the Iron Dome funding from the spending bill was spearheaded by Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Betty McCollum, successfully mediated by Rosa DeLauro, according to a Congress member who spoke to The Times of Israel.

Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Pramila Jayapal also threatened to vote against the bill if the Iron Dome funding was included, a Congressional aid told the paper.

Hassan El-Tayyab, legislative director for Middle East policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, told MEE that the removal of the funding shows it is "no longer a guarantee that Congress will rubber-stamp unconditional military funding for the Israeli government. And I think that's a significant victory for Palestinian rights and accountability".

"It used to be that Congress wouldn't question adding additional funding like this. But there has just been a real significant change in attitudes on the hill. And, in large part because of the massive amounts of grassroots pressure in support of Palestinian human rights," he said.

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The dispute has drawn strong condemnation from the Republicans, with House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy accusing the Democrats of capitulating to "the anti-Semitic influence of their radical members”.

“Democrats just pulled funding from the Iron Dome - the missile defense system that has saved countless lives in Israel from Hamas' rocket attacks… Republicans will always stand with Israel,” he tweeted.

Another Republican senator, Ted Cruz, called the decision “an outrage and a disgrace” and urged the Democratic rank-and-file to denounce the party's leadership.

“Tragic. Dem leadership surrenders to the anti-Semitic Left. They hate Israel so much that Dems are stripping $1 BILLION in funding for Iron Dome - a purely defensive system that protects countless innocent civilians from Hamas rockets.

"Will any Dems have the courage to denounce?” the conservative from Texas tweeted.

Known as “the squad”, Representatives Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Tlaib, and Pressley have faced censure calls from the Republicans for allegedly “defending terrorist organizations and inciting antisemitic attacks across the United States". 

The drama has also drawn heat from some fellow Democrats.

Dean Phillips, a Jewish Democratic congressman from Minnesota, told CNN that he was “incredulous” that the funding for Iron Dome had been stripped “at the request of some progressive Democrats”.

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Some liberal Democrats objected to US-Israel policy this year, including citing the many Palestinian casualties after Israel struck back following Hamas rocket attacks in May. Israel said most of the 4,350 rockets fired from Gaza during the conflict were blown out of the sky by Iron Dome interceptors.

The Iron Dome is a short-range anti-rocket system that uses targeting systems and radar to detect projectiles. Once located, it then fires Tamir interceptor missiles at the projectiles.

The system is specifically designed to fire at projectiles only targeting strategic locations, such as population centres or military installations.

Since it became operational in 2011, Israel has deployed 10 batteries across the country, each with three to four launchers capable of firing 20 interceptor missiles.

The Iron Dome has been used by Israel to intercept projectiles from both Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah forces in Lebanon. According to the Israeli government, during the most recent escalation with Hamas in May, it had a roughly 90 percent interception rate.

Around 250 Palestinians in Gaza were killed in Israeli air strikes during the 11-day conflict in May, and 13 people were killed in Israel.