Biden’s Israel envoy nominee supports funding Iron Dome after congressional dust-up

Thomas Nides endorsed replenishing missile defence system after progressive Democrats objected to funding a $1bn programme pinned on a domestic spending bill

FILE - In this Dec. 20, 2012, file photo, Thomas Nides, testifies to the Senate foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. President Joe Biden has unveiled picks for several high-profile ambassadorial postings, turning to a group that includes career diplomats, political allies and an American aviation hero. Nides is nominated to serve as ambassador to Israel. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
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US President Joe Biden’s nominee to serve as ambassador to Israel supported funding to replenish the Iron Dome missile defence system during his Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday.

Thomas Nides’s endorsement came the day after a group of Democrats in Congress successfully forced the removal of $1 billion in additional funding for Israel’s Iron Dome from a spending bill needed to prevent a government shutdown.

Mr Nides told the Senate that he supported replenishing the Iron Dome batteries that were depleted during Israel’s latest war against Hamas in May, which killed at least 243 Palestinians and 12 Israelis while devastating the Gaza Strip.

“The United States remains unwavering in its commitment to Israel’s security, supported by a 10-year, $38 billion memorandum of understanding,” said Mr Nides.

“Israel is one of our closest security partners in countering the broad spectrum of threats, chief among them is the critical threat that Iran poses.”

The Biden administration requested Congress to give Israel an additional $1 billion in Iron Dome funding after the Gaza war.

Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives had initially tried to include the $1 billion in a bill to avert a government shutdown at the end of the month.

But they were forced to remove the provision as they did not have the votes to pass the spending legislation, due to opposition to the additional Iron Dome funding from several Democrats in the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

The razor-thin majority in the House and blanket Republican opposition to the bill means that Democrats can only afford a few defections within their own party to pass the government funding bill.

One of the progressive caucus members, Jamaal Bowman, told Bloomberg News that he opposed the Iron Dome provision because Democratic leaders included it in the spending bill at the “last minute” without prior consultation.

The provision’s removal marks the first victory for a new generation of pro-Palestinian Democrats in Congress, who tried and failed in May to block a $735 million sale of precision guided munitions to Israel.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said on Tuesday that he spoke by phone with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer – an ardent Israel defender – who characterised the setback as a “technical delay."

Mr Lapid said that he expected Congress would nonetheless allocate the $1 billion in additional Iron Dome funding at a later time.

The powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee was less reserved than Mr Lapid, accusing “extremists in Congress” of “playing politics with Israeli [and] Palestinian lives.”

Mr Hoyer said that he would introduce the $1 billion in additional Iron Dome funding as a separate bill for a vote on the House floor later this week.

In addition to replenishing depleted Iron Dome batteries, the proposed $1 billion for the missile defence system would represent 60 per cent of what Congress has provided over the last decade.

Seth Binder, the advocacy director at the Project on Middle East Democracy, said the US has provided $1.7 billion in total funding since 2011.

He said the $1 billion sought by the Biden administration is 14 times more than the $73 million the US gave to Israel for the Iron Dome this year.

The US provides Israel with $3 billion in foreign military financing every year, and an additional $800 million for missile programmes, which include the Iron Dome.

An August poll from the Chicago Council Survey found that half of Americans believe the US should restrict military aid to Israel, including 62 per cent of Democrats but only 32 per cent of Republicans.

Despite the growing support within the Democratic party to leverage US military aid to Israel, Mr Biden has refused to budge on the issue and continues to espouse a strong pro-Israel line.

That position was on full display during the Senate confirmation hearing for Mr Nides, who earned plenty of praise from pro-Israel Democrats and Republicans alike.

Mr Nides condemned the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel while promising to “personally support every effort to expand” the Abraham Accords, in which the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan agreed to normalise relations with Israel.

He also said “yes,” when Republican Mike Rounds asked him if he considered Jerusalem to be the “undivided” capital of Israel and reaffirmed the Biden administration’s pledge to keep the US embassy in Jerusalem.

Updated: September 22, 2021, 5:41 PM