US Congress calls for replenishing aid to Israel before Benny Gantz visit

Bipartisan letter urges Pentagon to quickly restock Israel’s Iron Dome

epa09239180 Israeli Minster of Defense, Benny Gantz addressing foreign journalists working in Israel, in Jerusalem, 31 May 2021.  EPA/ATEF SAFADI
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More than 50 members of the US Congress sent a letter to Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin on Wednesday asking him to “urgently” replenish Israel's Iron Dome air defence system.

The call came as Israel’s defence chief Benny Gantz travels to Washington to make the same request.

The one-page letter was signed by a bipartisan group of representatives including prominent Democrats including Hakeem Jeffries, Elissa Slotkin, Tom Malinowski, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Ted Lieu and Andy Kim.

“We write to express our strong support for the Biden administration’s ironclad commitment to Israel’s safety and security,” the letter said.

"We must 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.”

The letter mentions Israel’s double security challenge, with Gaza to the south and Lebanon to the north.

“Although lives were tragically lost, the Iron Dome was extremely effective overall," the letter said.

"It intercepted approximately 90 per cent of the incoming rockets, saving countless civilians in Israel, as well as those in Gaza."

The Israeli army said Hamas fired more than 4,500 rockets in 11 days of fighting last month.

The representatives ask Mr Austin in the letter to work with Congress and  “expeditiously” fulfil any request Israel makes to restock the missile defence system.

In Jerusalem on Wednesday, Republican US Senator Lindsey Graham said he expected Washington to quickly authorise as much as $1 billion for Israel to replenish Iron Dome.

“There will be a $1bn request coming to the Pentagon this week from the [Israeli] defence minister to replenish the Iron Dome and a few other things, to upgrade the system,” Mr Graham said.

The letter comes hours before Mr Gantz is scheduled to arrive in Washington on a visit to discuss security issues.

The Israeli Defence Minister will meet Mr Austin and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.

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Natan Sachs, senior fellow and director of the Centre for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, said Mr Gantz’s visit was of more significance to the US due to the possible formation of a new coalition government in Israel.

"Mr Gantz is a potential agent of continuity in the new Israeli government – once it's formed", Mr Sachs told The National.

He said Mr Gantz was “a known quantity” and someone with whom successive US administrations have worked since 2011, when he was chief of general staff for the Israeli army.

Mr Gantz is expected to continue as Defence Minister in the new government.

Although he is likely to address many issues with US leaders during his visit, a major focus will be refilling the Iron Dome stockpile.

“Hamas was successful in firing long-range missiles and, in some cases, getting through the Iron Dome,” Mr Sachs said.

“But Israel remains much more concerned about the threat from its northern border and where Hezbollah has more sophisticated missiles."

Progressive members of the Democratic Party, such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have called on the administration to suspend assistance to Israel.

Mr Jeffries, Ms Slotkin and other signatories on the letter are advocating steadfast support.

Mr Sachs said the party divide on Israel was not a zero-sum game.

“Both trends are true. Yes, there is a shift when it comes to Israel among some Democrats, but nonetheless, the Democratic Party is by and large a major supporter of Israel,” he said.