Exclusive—Sen. Bill Hagerty: The United States Must Increase Support for Israel’s Iron Dome

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 12: U.S. Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-TN) listens during a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee at Hart Senate Office Building on May 12, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held a hearing on “Domestic Violent Extremism in America.” (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Alex Wong/Getty Images

It’s a dangerous time for the United States and our other allies in the Middle East. Terrorists and terror-sponsoring regimes are threatening our security and testing our resolve.

That’s why I visited Israel over Memorial Day—to stand unequivocally with Israel after Hamas and other Iran-backed terrorists in Gaza spent 11 days indiscriminately launching more than 4,000 rockets against Israeli civilians. I also wanted to assess firsthand the aftermath of the worst sustained terrorist assault against Israel in years.

My findings on the ground only reaffirmed my belief that the United States must reverse its current trajectory and take immediate steps to help our allies better defend themselves and our common interests amid grave and gathering threats.

It was awe-inspiring to see up close Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, which shot down over 90 percent of the Hamas rockets that it targeted.

It was heartbreaking to witness the damage that the few rockets that penetrated the Iron Dome inflicted on Israeli communities. I walked among the ruins of a house destroyed by a Hamas rocket that injured the elderly woman who lived there and killed her caretaker.

And it was humbling to meet the men and women of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) who responded with precision strikes against terrorist targets in Gaza and went to great lengths to minimize civilian casualties. Although a fringe of the American left has tried to draw a false moral equivalency between Hamas and Israel, there’s no comparison between the terrorists bent on murdering civilians and IDF service members using discriminate force to defend civilians.

I also met with senior leaders—including then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat, Knesset members, and members of the business community—to discuss what our nations can do to strengthen cooperation.

For Israel, the first priority is to resupply and expand its Iron Dome rocket defenses. This priority was made abundantly clear after the Iranian regime announced that it will help Hamas and other terrorists restock and improve their weapons for future attacks, Israeli leaders recognize that they must reload their defenses to stay ahead of the terrorist threat.

It’s critical for the United States to increase support for Iron Dome. Toward that end, I discussed with Israeli officials the Emergency Resupply for Iron Dome Act (S. 1751), my bill to authorize the Executive Branch to redirect foreign assistance away from Hamas-controlled Gaza and toward efforts to replenish and upgrade Israel’s Iron Dome interceptors. So long as the Palestinian Authority engages in “pay-for-slay” funding for terrorism and Hamas continues to divert foreign aid intended for rebuilding, we should not allow American tax dollars to flow into them.

My legislation—which is co-sponsored by Senators Cruz (R-TX), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Tom Cotton (R-AR), and James Lankford (R-OK), and has a companion bill in the House of Representatives—would perform the double function of keeping U.S. assistance and cash out of terrorists’ hands while using these resources to make Israeli civilians safer.

More generally, Israel—like other regional allies—remains gravely concerned that the Iranian regime will use the ongoing nuclear negotiations with the Biden administration in Vienna to get out from under sanctions pressure and gain tens of billions in revenues to fund its terrorist proxies, like Hamas, more than ever before. I share their concerns.

President Biden claims he wants to rejoin the Iran deal and then make it “longer and stronger.” But it is naïve to believe the United States can give up its strongest leverage upfront, and then somehow extract bigger concessions from an emboldened Iran later.

If the Biden administration wants to pursue a Middle East policy that can endure beyond the next U.S. election, it must start anchoring its policy on three principles.

First, listen to Israel and other allies in the region. They are under increased threat from an emboldened Iran and its terrorist proxies. They are dismayed by the Biden administration’s naive outreach to Iran through intermediaries like China, Russia, France, and Germany rather than including those nations in the region that live under direct threat from Iran. They want to see America pursuing peace through strength, not appeasement through weakness.

Second, stand strong with our friends when they’re under attack. Israel and other allies yearn for an America that makes clear that we will hold terror-sponsoring regimes and terrorists fully accountable for their aggression.

Third, restart the momentum for peace. Israel and other allies want America’s help to sustain and expand the historic Abraham Accords, under which four Arab nations, so far, have normalized relations with Israel and are increasing economic ties.

My trip to the post-conflict scene in Israel affirmed my belief that, if the Biden administration wishes to avoid a policy that will do little but give the Iranian regime better means to attack Israel and other allies, it should change course. It is imperative that Congress hold the administration accountable until it does.

Bill Hagerty is a United States Senator from Tennessee and a former U.S. ambassador to Japan.

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