Explainer: The Controversy Over Increased Funding for Iron Dome

September 22, 2021

What is Iron Dome and what is it used for?

  • Iron Dome is a missile defense system developed by Israel and funded by U.S. taxpayers. This weapons technology has been used primarily to help enforce Israel’s nearly 15-year-old siege and naval blockade of Gaza, which the UN and human rights organizations have condemned as collective punishment of the entire population and illegal.  

How much U.S. taxpayer money has gone to fund Iron Dome so far?

  • Iron Dome is already fully funded. Since 2011, the U.S. has given approximately $1.7 billion to the Israeli military for Iron Dome, which includes funding through 2028. This is in addition to the $3.8 billion the U.S. gives the Israeli military each year - far more than any other country - as part of a 10-year memorandum of understanding (MOU) that was agreed upon in 2016 that covers the fiscal years 2019 to 2028. 
  • Israel is the largest recipient of foreign funding in U.S. history and the only country that does not have any country-specific human rights conditions attached to its military funding. Since Israel was established in 1948, the U.S. has given it more than $146 billion in military, economic, and missile defense funding ($236 billion adjusted for inflation in 2018 dollars), the vast majority for Israel’s military. Israel is capable of funding Iron Dome on its own without U.S. taxpayer dollars.

What is currently being proposed?

  • Some members of Congress want to give Israel an additional $1 billion for Iron Dome, which amounts to about 60% of what the U.S. has given Israel already for it over a decade. Israel requested the increase, which was first announced by Senator Lindsay Graham in June 2021 during a trip to Israel.

Why do progressive Democrats and others object to this? 

  • Congress already funds Iron Dome. Israel has not proven or shown any actual need for more funding, let alone a whopping $1 billion, which is significantly more than what it has requested/used in the past. Progressives oppose rubber-stamping an additional billion in American taxpayer dollars to create a slush fund for Israel’s human rights abusing military. 
  • Progressives also object to how the provision to increase funding was originally tacked onto a larger must-pass spending bill with little time to debate it. This is a major increase and not something that should be taken lightly.
  • Israel is an apartheid state carrying out a belligerent military occupation, and is currently under investigation for war crimes by the International Criminal Court. Progressives believe Congress should treat any military funding to Israel, even if deemed “defensive”, with enhanced scrutiny to ensure American taxpayer dollars are not funding human rights abuses and war crimes. 
  • Progressives and others who object to the increase in funding also believe the money that is wasted subsidizing Israeli human rights abuses should be spent on desperately needed programs to help Americans and others, including healthcare, housing, education, and stopping climate change, all of which are frequently deemed too costly by more conservative Democrats and Republicans. 
  • Progressives and others also believe the only way toward a truly just and sustainable peace is for Israel to end its systematic dispossession of Palestinians and other grave violations of their rights. This includes ending the cruel siege and blockade of Gaza. Upholding and increasing unconditional military funds to Israel - especially in the wake of its latest military assault on Gaza and ongoing forced displacement of Palestinians in Jerusalem and elsewhere - would only serve to prolong and exacerbate the violence of the status quo.
  • The situation is clear: Israel is illegally occupying Palestinian land and has systematically oppressed the Palestinian people for decades. This is aggression, not defense. We must understand Iron Dome in this context.  

How do Americans feel about the U.S. funding the Israeli military?

  • According to a poll released by the Brookings Institution in 2016 following the signing of the most recent MOU totaling $38 billion over a decade, "Among Democrats and Independents, a majority (57 percent and 59 percent respectively) say it’s too much or way too much." 
  • According to an August 2021 poll by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and The Israel Democracy Institute, 50% of all Americans think the US should restrict military aid to Israel to prohibit its use in military operations against Palestinians, including 62% of Democrats.
  • According to a June 2021 poll by Data for Progress, 55% of all likely voters and 72% of Democrats support a bill introduced by Rep. Betty McCollum to restrict Israel’s use of U.S. military aid in order to prevent violations of Palestinian human rights. 
  • Moreover, according to several polls done by Brookings, including one from 2018, a large percentage of Americans (40%) and a majority of Democrats (56%) actually support imposing sanctions or more serious measures on Israel over its construction of Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land in violation of international law and official U.S. policy.