Behind Congressional Drive to Buy Iron Dome: Money From Raytheon

Letter from 40 congressmen urges U.S. Army to buy Israeli anti-missile system

Israel's Iron Dome defense system in the Golan Heights, March 17, 2017
JALAA MAREY/AFP

It’s unlikely that the 6,000 employees of Rafael have ever heard of Grace Meng and Peter Roskam, but the two U.S. Congress members have begun an initiative that could have a huge impact on the Israeli state-owned arms maker.

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The two – Meng is a Democrat, Roskam a Republican -- are behind a campaign that began last Friday in the House of Representatives with a letter to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, urging it to continue funding for U.S.-Israel defense cooperation programs. Forty other congressmen signed on.

The letter calls for continued American financial support for Israeli defense programs. Moreover, they call on the committee to examine the possibility of the U.S. Army acquiring Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system.

Rafael and Israel Aerospace Industries, which is also involved in Iron Dome, deny any connection with Meng and Roskam’s undertaking, but Raytheon – the giant U.S. defense contractor – is Rafael’s partner in manufacturing and marketing the system.

The company donates about $2 million annually to more than 200 members of Congress and has a $5 million annual budget for lobbying.

Most of the 40 congressmen who signed the letter have enjoyed campaign contributions from Raytheon amounting to tens of thousands of dollars. The biggest recipient is Martha McSally, an Arizona Republican and former fighter pilot who received $40,000 from Raytheon over the last two years.

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Roskam, who represents an Illinois district, has gotten $16,000 since 2014 from the arms maker. Elise Stefanik, a New York Republican, and Ted Lieu, a California Democrat, each received $18,000 over the last two years.

The first trials of Iron Dome took place nine years ago, and the system has since tipped the balance of power between Israel and Hamas even more heavily in Israel’s favor. The system won plaudits in the international media during the 2014 summer war with Gaza. Yet Israel still has not succeeded in winning a single export contract for it.

Experts say Iron Dome hasn’t gotten any export traction because its ability to take down short-range rockets is designed for uniquely Israeli needs. But there are many countries, like South Korea and India, that could benefit from the system.

An order from the Pentagon might lead to such countries following suit. In the meantime, a contract would be a major boost for Rafael, whose total annual turnover is just 8 billion shekels ($2.2 billion).

Each Iron Dome emplacement costs between $80 and $90 million, plus the costs of the missiles themselves. A contract from the Pentagon for even two systems, which include radar, a launching system and missiles, would add up to $250 million.

Iron Dome’s development cost $4.5 billion, most of which was covered by the U.S. Some of that aid is supposed to be repaid from export orders.