Iron Dome Emergency Funding Stymied by D.C. Political Gridlock

Despite U.S. officials’ assurances that Iron Dome aid would be approved swiftly, it is now almost inevitable that the issue will extend at least into the early months of 2022

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
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Rockets fired from Gaza City being intercepted by Iron Dome missiles last May.
Rockets fired from Gaza City being intercepted by Iron Dome missiles last May.Credit: MAHMUD HAMS / AFP
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels

WASHINGTON – The paths forward for the U.S. Congress to officially approve $1 billion in emergency funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system are steadily disappearing, portending a much longer road ahead than originally anticipated.

Despite U.S. officials’ public and private assurances, and Israeli confidence that the aid would be approved and delivered swiftly, it is now almost inevitable that the matter will extend at least into the first months of 2022.

As things stand, the emergency aid is sitting idle in the Senate thanks to Sen. Rand Paul. The Kentucky Republican is the sole member of the Senate preventing the fast-tracking of the aid via unanimous consent – a position he has held firm on for two months now due to his belief that the funding should be reallocated from proposed assistance to Afghanistan.

At this point, senators from both parties are resigned to the fact that Paul will not lift his objections and the Iron Dome funding will not be fast-tracked.

Further, it is unlikely the Senate Democratic leadership will be able to go through the steps such as scheduling a vote, informing members and holding floor debates anytime soon due to the pressures of the year-end Senate calendar, forcing lawmakers to pursue other creative avenues to formally approve the funding.

The most likely path disappeared last week when Congress approved a stopgap funding measure to prevent the federal government from shutting down. The emergency Iron Dome funding was included in the September version of this measure (also known as a continuing resolution, or “CR”), which led to progressive Democrats’ opposition on both process and substance, and the subsequent controversy that erupted.

The December version of the measure did not include the $1 billion, despite a significant push from 84 bipartisan lawmakers to U.S. President Joe Biden urging him to include Iron Dome funding in the latest version.

The next option would be to add the funding as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, a sweeping defense bill that details annual Pentagon spending. Although Senate Democrats included it in their October proposal of the bill as a detour around Paul’s objections, sources familiar with the efforts to pass the funds say it is unlikely the NDAA is the eventual vehicle.

An amendment is also highly improbable considering the difficulties the Senate leadership has encountered in approving its version of the NDAA based on timing pressures and flash-point Republican amendments on China and Russia.

Republican Sen. Rand Paul speaking in a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill in September.Credit: POOL/REUTERS

Rep. Josh Gottheimer, one of the most ardent pro-Israel Democrats in Congress and a key figure behind the push for the emergency funding, told Jewish Insider after the most recent measure was passed that he would not vote for the next stopgap funding measure in February unless Iron Dome aid was included.

If this is indeed the case, it portends a significant clash where a Democrat threatens to cross party lines and help Republicans scuttle an emergency funding measure in a year of midterm elections for the sake of Iron Dome funding.

The politicization of the debate surrounding Iron Dome was put on full display by GOP Rep. Andy Barr after the recent CR passage, who tweeted that “Dems have once again hung our Israeli allies out to dry by neglecting to include funding for the Iron Dome. This bill absolutely reeks of Democrat Dysfunction.”

His comments discount the fact that he would have voted against the measure even if it included Iron Dome funding, and that his Kentucky colleague in the Senate is the sole member of Congress preventing the funds from being delivered.

While many progressive Democrats objected to the inclusion of Iron Dome funding in the September measure based on lack of transparency, others objected to its inclusion altogether, arguing that supplying an additional $1 billion in aid required debate and it would be more appropriate to dedicate these funds to domestic concerns.

At this rate, unless the Iron Dome funding is somehow included in the NDAA, the House could see a repeat eruption of the controversy and subsequent debate of U.S. military aid to Israel in the near future.

The chance always remains – however slim given the political climate in Washington – that Democratic and Republican leaderships manage to strike a bipartisan deal to fully fund the government at updated and agreed-upon levels before the 11-week CR expires. In this case, the aid could be included as part of a massive omnibus bill.

Despite the Washington gridlock, Israeli officials who have been tracking the matter are not unduly concerned. They understand it’s a complicated process that doesn’t reflect on the overwhelming bipartisan, bicameral support for the emergency aid, and they anticipate the funds to be delivered in early 2022 regardless.

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