'Fiscal cliff' may threaten US Iron Dome assistance

Former staffer warns US assistance may be reduced if cuts go into effect, as fund "sequestration" for new US budget looms.

US Capitol building 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Jim Bourg)
US Capitol building 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Jim Bourg)
WASHINGTON – A former Congressional staffer warned Tuesday that US assistance for Iron Dome and other Israeli military expenditures would likely be reduced should expected draconian cuts to the US budget go into effect.
“Iron Dome will be cut,” Randy Jennings, a former Congressional aide on defense issues and now a defense industry consultant, said at an event on Israel’s short-range rocket defense system held at The Heritage Foundation.
“There will be no sacred cows...All the programs will be hit,” he said.
Jennings was referring primarily to the looming threat of “sequestration,” whereby some $100 billion of next year’s budget will automatically be cut across the board starting in January, unless a gridlocked Congress works out major compromises before then.
The cuts are slated to continue for nine years and reach over $1 trillion.
About half of the reduction is scheduled to come from defense spending.
Israel has received hundreds of millions of dollars for the Iron Dome system, on top of $3 billion in annual military assistance. Plans are underway for hundreds of millions more for the short-range system, but Jennings suggested at least some of that funding would be vulnerable.
Also Jennings spoke of the overall condition of the federal budget where non-discretionary spending on entitlement programs such as social security take up a larger percentage of the budget as the population ages, shrinking the amount of discretionary funds available.
“I think in Congress you’re always going to have strong support, and in the administration. But their ability to fully fund it with all these budget pressures is going to be that much worse,” Jennings said.
However, Baker Spring, a national security fellow at Heritage who participated Tuesday alongside Jennings, assessed that lawmakers would move to protect some types of defense spending as the possibility of broad across-the-board cuts neared.
“As sequestration kicks in, the pressures are going to build, I think pretty dramatically, to provide more discretion in terms of how the cuts are applied,” he maintained, pointing particularly to push-back from the Pentagon.
“Sequestration is not a good outcome for defense any way you cut it,” he said.
He was echoed by Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council.
“There are sacred cows,” Berman argued.
Lt.-Col. Merav Davidovits, Israel Missile Defense Organization Liaison Officer for the Embassy of Israel, who also appeared on the panel, noted that Israel is aware of America’s economic realities.
“Of course we are fully aware of obstacles we have at this time,” she acknowledged.
The strategy, Davidovits said, was to make the case for how the Iron Dome system protects not only Israel, but American interests in stability in the region, and can provide American jobs in production as well.
She said Israel is working to double its capacity of Iron Dome batteries, though she said details on the planning were secret and the government had not yet discussed details of the effort with the US.
“We are very grateful, and we don’t take for granted all the aid that we have been receiving from the US,” Davidovits said.