In a dramatic about-face, the United States Senate on Friday unanimously passed a bill authorizing $225 million in emergency funding to replenish Israel’s dwindling stockpile of Iron Dome defense missiles on the day the Senate was scheduled to adjourn for its August recess.
Only moments after the start of Friday’s session, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) asked for unanimous consent to immediately pass the bill, co-sponsored by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and supported by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain and a bipartisan group of other senators, many of whom had already left Washington. No official votes had been scheduled today.
After the vote, Graham and McCain held a joint press conference in which they reiterated the Senate’s support for the state of Israel in light of Hamas’ violation of a 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire and alleged kidnapping of an Israeli soldier earlier in the day.
“The message today from the United States Senate needs to be sent and it was sent,” said Graham. “Not only are we going to give you more missiles, we’re gonna be a better friend. We’re going to fight for you in the international court of public opinion, we’re going to fight for you in the United Nations.”
Graham also announced that he will introduced a new resolution condemning the latest kidnapping by Hamas and the increasingly anti-Israel rhetoric from the United Nations.
“As we speak, hundreds if not more rockets will be raining down on the nation of Israel, and if it were not for Iron Dome, the situation would be devastation, chaos and mass casualties in Israel,” said McCain. “Thanks [to] Iron Dome, which was a U.S.-Israeli project, the people of Israel are relatively safe. But they were running out of missiles, they were running out of capability and there’s still thousands more rockets that can be fired from Gaza.
“So from a practical standpoint, this was an urgent need. We could not go out for a month and five weeks and not act to help replenish their supply of Iron Dome missiles.”
The move was an attempt to salvage the most bipartisan part of the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2014 (S. 2648) which was blocked Thursday night by Republicans in a 50-44 procedural vote. That bill, introduced on July 23 by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) became mired in a bitter, partisan fight given its inclusion of funds requested by President Barack Obama to handle the influx of juvenile asylum seekers from Central America crossing the Mexican border into this country.
Less controversially, the original bill also included emergency funds for agencies involved in fighting the wildfires in the Western United States.
McConnell had earlier called for separate legislation on Iron Dome funding, knowing that Senate Republicans would oppose any bill bowing to the President’s refugee crisis funding requests but not wanting to appear to rebuff the Israelis.
The emergency funding was requested by U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in a letter to Congress and, according to Mikulski, Senate appropriations staffers were briefed by Israeli embassy staff about the urgent need. Asked whether Hill staffers were briefed, the embassy declined comment.
Already this year, Congress had provided $235 million for Iron Dome research, development and production, according to the Congressional Research Service.
According to Mikulski, each Iron Dome missile costs Israel about $50,000. Israel has fired a total of 515 of these interceptors at some of approximately 2,700 Hamas rockets bound for Israel since July 30—a 90 percent success rate.
The House of Representatives has not yet adjourned for August recess and is expected to pass Iron Dome funding, also by unanimous consent, Friday evening before its members leave Washington.
[email protected] @dmitriyshapiro
JNS.org contributed to this story.