Iron Dome will be funded, but more ‘Squad’ trouble is on the way - analysis

Recent events should concern Israel of trouble with the "Squad" even as statements by Israeli officials tried to minimize the problem.

US REPS. (from left) Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, four members of ‘the Squad,’ have made a name for themselves in their bashing of Israel over the last few years.  (photo credit: ERIN SCOTT/REUTERS)
US REPS. (from left) Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, four members of ‘the Squad,’ have made a name for themselves in their bashing of Israel over the last few years.
(photo credit: ERIN SCOTT/REUTERS)

The Iron Dome may ultimately receive the American funding it needs, after progressive pressure led Democratic Party leadership in the House of Representatives to remove it from a broader bill, and then vowed to propose the aid as its own bill within days. But that doesn’t mean that the drama surrounding it is over.

Tuesday’s events in the House should ring alarm bells in Jerusalem that more trouble with the “Squad” is on the way, even as public statements by Israeli officials tried to minimize the problem.

US President Joe Biden has been promising Israel for months that a billion dollars in batteries for the missile defense system would be forthcoming. He said it first in May, at the close of Operation Guardian of the Walls, the latest round of war in response to Gaza terrorists shooting rockets at Israeli civilians; and he promised it again to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during his visit to the Oval Office a month ago.

Jerusalem was satisfied with those promises, and presented them as one of the prime minister’s achievements in his first meeting with the president. Bennett’s advisers and Israeli diplomats got word late Tuesday that things were moving smoothly toward a vote that would include the aid.

Progressive Democrats then refused to support the legislation – which was mostly meant to provide funding that would prevent a government shutdown – if it also included the Iron Dome funding.

THE IRON Dome anti-missile system intercepts a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip toward Israel, as seen from Ashkelon last month. (credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)THE IRON Dome anti-missile system intercepts a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip toward Israel, as seen from Ashkelon last month. (credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)

Interestingly, none of these progressive members of Congress have thus far identified themselves publicly. Politico reported that it is the same group that pushed to block arms to Israel during Operation Guardians of the Wall in May, which would mean Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) of New York, Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. Pocan’s office, however, denied to The Jerusalem Post that he was involved in the latest move.

In contrast to that small group, a bipartisan group of 56 members wrote to US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in June, calling on him to “ensure that the Iron Dome remains able to protect Israel without running the risk that its stockpile of interceptors becomes depleted. Israel must always have the resources it needs to defend itself from incoming rockets when it is targeted again.”

But with only a narrow majority in Congress, and Republicans refusing to save the Democrats from a government shutdown – even if that entails delaying Israel’s Iron Dome resupply – the Democrats didn’t have enough votes to pass the bill. They gave in to the Progressive demands and removed the Iron Dome from that vote.

Hours afterward, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer tweeted that “the House will consider legislation this week to fully fund Iron Dome. We will act to ensure Israel has the ability to defend itself, and I expect strong bipartisan support for this effort.”

Hoyer seemingly confirmed what Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s spokesman said after the two spoke on the phone Tuesday night: that it was only a “technical postponement that came from an argument in Congress about the American debt ceiling.”

Everything is fine, was the message Lapid conveyed. Hoyer, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer still support Israel and will make sure the Iron Dome is funded as soon as possible for Israel’s security needs.

The real problem, Lapid said, is former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“After years in which the previous government abandoned Congress and the Democratic Party and caused significant damage to Israel-US relations, we are rebuilding trust with Congress,” Lapid said. “I thank the [Biden] administration and Congress for their strong commitment to Israel’s security.”

Although the technical aspect of getting the money for the Iron Dome seems like it will be resolved quickly – with the progressives probably not having permanently derailed missile defense funding – the problem certainly is broader than that. And the incident proves that his pointing fingers at Netanyahu for souring ties between Israel and parts of the Democratic Party is an explanation that falls short.

The influence of progressives in the Democratic Party is growing. Hoyer, Pelosi and Schumer are close to retirement, while Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib and other members of The Squad are at the start of their political careers, in very liberal districts.

There is some talk about the progressive wing hurting the Democrats’ chances in tighter races in parts of the country that are not as starkly blue as the Bronx or Detroit. But the ranks of The Squad swelled in 2020, and Tuesday’s incident shows that its members are shrewd enough politicians to take advantage of the narrow Democratic majority in Congress, even if they are outnumbered by more moderate members.

This is a dynamic that will last at least until January 2023 – when the next class of representatives is inaugurated – and, in all likelihood, beyond that.

Perhaps even more problematic for Israel than the small-but-vocal Squad is the weakness of the Democratic leadership in facing them.

Pelosi has not hidden her disdain for AOC and her fellow travelers, but when Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) was under fire for antisemitic tweets in her first term, the text in the House resolution to condemn her was essentially changed to “all lives matter” antisemitism with the addition of many other forms of discrimination, with Pelosi’s support. She then endorsed Omar for reelection last year.

Schumer may call himself Shomer Yisrael, the protector of Israel, at Jewish events, but at least one Israeli official grumbled that he only made a neutral statement in the war with Hamas in May, and hasn’t had much to say about Israel since.

Notice that none of the aforementioned problems have anything to do with Netanyahu.

The former prime minister is not blameless, having done many things to alienate Democrats who support Israel, like the not-unreasonable accusation that he threw his support behind Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012. Three years later came a bigger sin: Netanyahu’s speech before both houses of Congress in which he came out strongly against the Iran nuclear deal.

Netanyahu has argued ever since that he did this for Israel’s national security, to try to stop what even Lapid says is a bad deal. But many Democrats still view it as an insult to a sitting president, Barack Obama.

Finally, there was his strong embrace of former president Donald Trump. While not only legitimate, it is even advisable for Israel’s benefit for a prime minister to get close with the US president. But with Trump being such a divisive figure, more could have been done to cultivate better relationships with moderate Democrats.

However, no one could reasonably argue that Netanyahu is the reason for the rise of The Squad. Foreign policy is low on most voters’ list of priorities. Plus, Netanyahu is no longer in office, they are not blocking the Iron Dome funding because of him, and AOC didn’t propose a bill this week to suspend the transfer of $735 million worth of Boeing Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) to Israel because of Bibi, either.

The AOC bill is another indicator that the problem is not just a “technical postponement” of Iron Dome funding, as Lapid put it. Moreover, it proves that the argument of the Iron Dome being a defensive system saving civilian lives from the thousands of rockets from Gaza has limited utility.

Israel also gets billions of dollars from the US for weapons because we are a US ally, a democracy that shares America’s values, and fighting terrorist groups who profess to wanting to commit genocide against us.

Perhaps the most absurd response to The Squad is that the Iron Dome saves Arab lives too, which is true – it not only has saved Arabs in Israel and their homes from being struck by rockets, but it saves many Palestinians, because Israel would likely strike Gaza much harder if it faced more casualties at home.

But what is the implication there? That it’s understandable if The Squad doesn’t care if Jews die, but maybe they’ll care more if Arabs do? Why is anyone legitimizing that view?

The things the progressives find objectionable about Israel – ranging from its control over Judea and Samaria to its very existence as a Jewish state, depending on the squad member – did not change when Bennett and Lapid entered office in June, and they’re not going to change anytime soon. That means the obstacles Israel faces from the Democratic Party’s left flank are here to stay for a while, and this government in Jerusalem will have to learn to advance Israel’s interests in this complex reality.

The solution seems to be to work even closer with the Biden administration and moderate Democrats and Republicans in Congress to circumvent the progressives – as they are doing this week.

But minimizing the problem as purely technical, and blaming Netanyahu, is not going to help.