5 things to know about U.S. funding for Israel’s “Iron Dome”

By Michael Merryman-Lotze

On Sept. 23, 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to provide Israel with $1 billion in new funding for its Iron Dome missile system. This is in addition to the $3.8 billion in military financing that the U.S. has already provided to Israel in 2021.  

The vote came a few days after a group of progressive Democrats blocked an earlier attempt to include this funding in a budget measure that passed the House. And the votes were cast after a process that did not allow time for open discussion or debate. 

Only 11 representatives rightfully opposed the funding for Iron Dome, and they have been stridently—and unfairly—attacked for their principled stand.  

Here is what you need to know about this funding for Iron Dome.  

1. Even before the vote, the U.S. had already provided billions of dollars in military financing to Israel—and more funding was guaranteed for years to come. 

Iron Dome is a missile intercept system developed and deployed by Israel. It is used to shoot down rockets and missiles fired toward Israel. The U.S. was directly involved in helping develop Iron Dome, providing over $1.6 billion in funding for its development. 

Representatives who voted against the most recent funding have been accused of voting to defund Iron Dome and not caring about Israeli security. This is not the case. 

During 2021—even before the Sept. 23 vote—the U.S. had already given Israel $500 million for Iron Dome and other missile defense systems. In 2018, the U.S. and Israel signed a 10-year memorandum of understanding through which the U.S. committed to providing Israel with $3.3 billion in military funding and $500 million in missile defense funding (including Iron Dome) annually. The recently approved $1 billion only adds to those funds.  

2. There is no urgent need for these funds, which could have been invested in peaceful alternatives instead of further militarization. 

When funding from the recent vote is finalized, it will go into a slush fund that Israel can use at any point between now and the end of 2024. This is because the companies that developed and maintain Iron Dome simply can’t use this funding immediately. There was no immediate or urgent need for new funds.  

These funds also come at the expense of other priorities. As Dylan Williams of J Street noted on Twitter: “To put this $1 billion in context, it’s more than the US spends on Nonproliferation, Anti-Terrorism & Demining Assistance globally ($890m in 2021) & more than twice what the US spends on direct contributions to NATO ($420m in 2019) & the entire Peace Corps ($410.5m in 2020).” 

Given all of this—and the strength of the Israeli economy—all U.S. lawmakers should have questioned why there was an urgent need to provide this money to Israel with no time for debate or discussion. 

3. Iron Dome is part of a larger military system used to enforce apartheid. 

Over the last year the Israeli human rights organizations B’Tselem and Yesh Din as well as Human Rights Watch all issued reports documenting how the situation in Israel and Palestine qualifies as apartheid.  Palestinians living under Israeli control face systematic violations of their human rights. Palestinians in Gaza live under a brutal blockade that the U.N. and the Red Cross have declared an illegal form of collective punishment. That blockade has destroyed the Gaza economy, blocks people’s access to basic services including medical care, restricts peoples’ travel, and results in the loss of life.    

Representatives who opposed new funding for Iron Dome have been accused of not supporting “purely defensive” weapons that are used to save Israeli lives. While Iron Dome does stop some rockets, it does nothing to stop the larger drivers of conflict and is part of a larger military system that enforces apartheid. Instead of investing in more militarized spending, the U.S. must prioritize ending Israeli apartheid and the root causes of violence and injustice. 

4. Missiles will not bring security or peace for anyone.

As Rep. Rashida Tlaib noted in her speech opposing this funding, “We cannot talk only about Israelis' need for safety when Palestinians are living under a violent apartheid system. ...We must be consistent in our support for human life. Period. Everyone deserves to be safe.”

Of course, all Israelis deserve to live free from fear of rockets and violence. So do all Palestinians—and it is Palestinians who face daily violence. There is no U.S. funding for an “Iron Dome” to protect Palestinians from Israeli bombardment.  

Between May 24 and Sept. 20, 2021, the Israeli military bombed Gaza on at least 15 occasions, opened fire into Gaza at least 82 times, and carried out at least 13 military operations in Gaza, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Palestine. Three Palestinians were killed during these attacks and at least 128 were injured.  

During the same period, Palestinians from Gaza fired a total of six rockets toward Israel on two occasions, injuring four Israelis. One Israeli soldier was also killed during fighting at the fence. 

In the West Bank, Israel killed 25 Palestinians, injured over 5,100, arrested 1,334, and demolished 321 structures displacing at least 439 Palestinians. 

As detailed in a previous blog post, outside of periods of defined military escalation, very few rockets are fired from Gaza. 

Billions of dollars for missiles and other weapons won’t stop violence from escalating again. What will bring change is an end to the Israeli occupation and the apartheid under which Palestinians live. 

5. You can take action to end U.S. funding for Israeli occupation and violations of Palestinian rights.

Those who opposed funding for Iron Dome were right to oppose these additional military funds, but that isn’t enough. It’s long past time for the U.S. to end all military support to Israel. 

Here are two things you can do today: