For years, Sderot was a city under siege, the target of non-stop rocket attacks launched by Palestinian terrorists from Gaza. School was halted, synagogues were silenced and in a community defined by courage, the fragments of rockets and mortars – the vehicles of attempted murder aimed at innocent Israelis – were plain for all to see. Sderot became a living museum of terror.
Witnessing the horror, U.S. lawmakers pledged that the joy of Israeli living would return vigor to Sderot and to other communities facing bombardment at any time of the day or night.
Our word was backed by a promise to help fund Iron Dome, a game changing rocket defense system fundamentally altering the strategic calculus in the region. For Israelis, this was a necessity; for Americans, a priority; for everyone, a strategic imperative.
Only four years ago, an informal Israeli-Hamas cease-fire collapsed and Palestinian extremists in Gaza began firing a relentless barrage of rockets into Israel aimed at the heart of Israeli population centers. In 2008, more than 3,000 rockets and mortar shells landed on Israeli territory, putting about 15 percent of Israel’s population at risk. Israel was left with no choice but to defend itself and went to war in Gaza in December 2008.
Unavoidably, many died in the ensuing warfare, most of them terrorists. But predictably, many in the international community condemned Israel for its necessary defensive war, including through the issuance of the notoriously biased Goldstone Report. The Obama administration did the right thing by defending Israel at the United Nations, but both Jerusalem and Washington became precariously isolated in the court of public opinion.
Fast forward to March 2012. Again a massive barrage of rockets was fired from Gaza at Israeli population centers by Islamic Jihad and its terrorist cohorts. But this time, Israel wasn’t defenseless. The development and deployment of three Iron Dome rocket and artillery interceptor batteries—funded in part by the United States—had changed the rules of the game. According to the Israel Defense Forces, Iron Dome intercepted a remarkable 90 percent of incoming rockets aimed at population centers.
This time there was no need for Israel to enter Gaza defensively. There were no Gazan civilian casualties, no international protests, and no isolation for the U.S. and Israel.
Only three Iron Dome batteries are now operational. Israel was lucky this time because it was only attacked on the Gaza front. But Israel is also vulnerable in the north of the country, where just across the border, Hezbollah has its own arsenal of Iranian-provided rockets laying in wait.
A two-front rocket war is a distinct possibility in the future. And the collapse of law and order in the Sinai, from which a rocket was recently fired at Eilat, adds an ominous new threat.
As Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., has written, “For America, as well as for Israel, an investment in the Iron Dome system is an investment in diplomacy — helping to create the conditions conducive to peace.”
In the U.S. Congress, where bitter partisanship and political brinksmanship has become all too common, funding for Iron Dome enjoys strong support among Democrats and Republicans. Legislation I’ve introduced, the Iron Dome Support Act, is the embodiment of that bipartisanship, backed by congressional members spanning the political spectrum.
This is an important week in Congress, demonstrating that the promises made to Sderot and surrounding communities will be kept. On Wednesday, the House of Representatives will vote on the United States-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act, which includes a strong statement of support for Iron Dome. It should pass overwhelmingly. The same day, the House Armed Services Committee in Congress will further approve $680 million dollars funding for additional Iron Dome batteries to protect the entire Jewish homeland.
Iron Dome is no guarantee that Palestinian extremists won’t pick a fight with Israel. But it makes it much more likely that Israel will only commit its soldiers to combat when it alone chooses.
The Iron Dome system enhances stability in Middle East. That’s why the United States is behind its further development and strongly supports Israeli efforts to build more.
U.S. Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-California) is the top-ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. This oped first appeared in haaretz.com.