A bipartisan group of senators, including Democratic vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine, has signed a public letter urging the Senate Armed Services Committee to include an additional $320 million for Israeli missile defense systems in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which sets the Pentagon’s annual budget.
Nineteen Republicans and 17 Democrats, led by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), have so far signed onto the letter, which proposes that the Senate’s NDAA should match the funding levels for Israeli defense included in the version of the bill passed by the House of Representatives. Democratic vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine (D-Va.) was among the senators who signed the letter, a stance in line with a March declaration by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton calling for the U.S. to bolster Israel’s missile defense. The House version of the NDAA fully funded Israeli missile defense systems, including the Iron Dome, the Arrow, and David’s Sling. These systems would be co-produced in the United States, bringing economic benefits to the country. Senators and representatives are planning to combine the two bills to “produce a conference report to both chambers for approval before sending it to the president’s desk,” The Hill reported.
“These joint U.S.-Israel programs continue to yield critical defense capabilities that protect Israel from missile and rocket threats from as near as the Gaza Strip and Lebanon to as far as Iran,” the senators wrote. “As you know, investments over the years in U.S.-Israeli missile defense systems have saved the lives of countless civilians from indiscriminate rocket and missile attacks,” they added. During Israel’s 2014 war against the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas, Iron Dome had a 90% success rate in intercepting rockets headed toward Israeli population centers, knocking down more than 600 rockets. Such missile defense systems are important in protecting Israeli infrastructure, which prevents military escalation and gives Israel options short of launching a ground invasion. “It took down about 85% of rockets that would have hit downtown Israeli cities and the fact that they couldn’t hit our cities gave us time, gave us space,” then-Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren recounted in a 2013 interview with MSNBC about the 2012 war with Hamas. “It actually not only saved Israeli lives, it saved Palestinian lives, because we didn’t have to operate on the ground. It gave us time to work out a ceasefire with then-Secretary of State Clinton.”
Funding for Israeli missile defense systems can also help mitigate the risk of a major conflict breaking out between Israel and the Iran-backed terrorist group Hezbollah, former Treasury official Jonathan Schanzer said during a panel hosted by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies on Monday. Limiting Hezbollah’s ability to inflict major damage on Israel will help lessen the severity of Jerusalem’s response, he explained.
When you look at the lessons of the Gaza War of 2014, whatever you say about the way that it ended or the way that it was not resolved, the key to preventing a much more bloody conflict was missile defense for the Israelis. I don’t know exactly how much Israel has or how much Israel needs in order to counter 150,000 rockets from Lebanon, reports are that it can be roughly 1,000 or more a day during that conflict. If those rockets hit northern Israel, if they hit deeper into Israel, that will precipitate a ground conflict, there is almost no doubt about that. So the key here is to ensure that Israel remains safe through missile defense, through those countermeasures. If it’s not able to do so, then we have a real problem. So I think that in terms of what Congress can do, it’s just essentially to make sure that Israel is prepared for this from a defense perspective. That might prevent the war that we don’t want to see.
Brig. Gen. (ret.) Yakov Shaharabani, who spoke alongside Schanzer, agreed with his assessment and added that current Israeli missile defense systems like Iron Dome and David’s Sling are “a strategic game changer” that give the Israeli government more time to consider a wider range of retaliatory options.