Despite Gridlock, Congress Passes Military Aid for Israel

Despite Gridlock, Congress Passes Military Aid for Israel

Lawmakers are returning to their districts for a five-week recess without addressing a whole host of pressing domestic policy issues, but first they approved one funding measure related to a conflict thousands of miles away: A $225 million missile-defense package for Israel.

On Friday, the Senate passed a funding bill for Israel’s Iron Dome defense shield, which has been credited with intercepting Hamas rockets from Gaza aimed at its population centers. Afterwards, the House passed the measure in a 395-8 vote late Friday evening.

The successful last-minute push comes as other pressing issues related to immigration, border security, ambassador nominations and assistance for wildfires fall prey to partisan squabbling ahead of Congress’ August recess.

The passage is a victory for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a powerful lobbying organization in Washington that considers U.S. funding for Jerusalem a top priority.

A measure to fund Iron Dome alongside wildfire assistance was blocked Thursday night after Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma insisted that the Senate find corresponding offsets somewhere in the federal budget to pay for it — a request Democrats rejected. On Friday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada dropped wildfire assistance from the legislation and the Iron Dome measure passed without objection.

The advanced missile-tracking system calculates the trajectory of incoming rockets and fires interceptors at them if they are projected to land in heavily populated civilian areas. Each interceptor costs up to $100,000, which is why the Israeli government requested the $225 million from Congress. On Wednesday the Pentagon also supplied Israel with 120mm mortar shells and 40mm grenades from a stockpile maintained within the Jewish state.

The vote comes amid the implosion of a 72-hour cease-fire between Jerusalem and Hamas after continued fighting in Gaza resulted in the death of two Israeli soldiers, 40 Palestinians, and the apparent capture of an Israeli infantryman. Secretary of State John Kerry called his snatching an "outrageous violation" of the cease-fire agreement and demanded that Hamas return the Israeli soldier. The 25-day conflict’s death toll has reached nearly 1,500: 1,400 Palestinians, many of them civilians, and 60 Israelis, mostly soldiers.