The Complex

Israel's Iron Dome Gets New Funding as Gaza Fight Intensifies

This story has been corrected. 

Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system has kept the country safe from the hundreds of Hamas rockets flying toward its major cities from the Gaza Strip. With fighting intensifying, Congress seems poised to give Israel and one of the United States' largest defense contractors a jolt of good news: $175 million in new American aid that will help fund an expansion of the program.

The additional money for Iron Dome cleared one of its final hurdles Tuesday, when a key Senate appropriations subcommittee unanimously voted to double the Pentagon's $175 million request for fiscal year 2015. The full committee will consider the defense appropriations bill on Thursday. Meanwhile, three other panels have already signed off on the funding expansion, making it all but certain the additional money will be provided. Iron Dome has received $720 million in American funding since 2011, when the United States became directly involved in the program.

Iron Dome, which is built by the Israeli defense company Rafael, has kept Israeli casualties so low that it's credited with bolstering the public's support for a longer bombing campaign rather than an immediate ground invasion into Gaza. If Hamas rockets had managed to strike major Israeli population centers, the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would have had little choice but to send troops into Gaza on a high-risk mission to find and destroy the militant group's rocket launchers.

Instead, Israel is reporting that Iron Dome has had a 90 percent success rate, though it has only been used against 27 percent of the Hamas rockets. Because of the high cost of each interceptor -- which the Washington Post pegs at roughly $20,000 a piece -- Israel only uses the system when its radars indicate that a rocket seems likely to hit a populated area. The Hamas rockets are thought to cost less than $800 each.

With the conflict intensifying, a Hamas mortar shell fired from Gaza Tuesday caused the first Israeli death since the eight-day military confrontation began.* Israeli airstrikes on targets in Gaza, by contrast, have killed close to 200 Palestinians.  

While some missile defense experts say the success of Iron Dome has been overhyped, the system is frequently celebrated in both Israel and the United States for saving civilian lives. At a Pentagon press briefing in 2012, then-Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak presented then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta with a mini-Iron Dome model. Panetta responded by giving Barak a photograph of the two of them visiting an Iron Dome site in Israel.

On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, lawmakers from both parties have long been eager to show their support for the program, which they see as a cost-effective way of developing state-of-the-art technologies that the Pentagon can use to improve its own missile defense capabilities. With U.S. contributions to the Iron Dome program set to reach nearly $1 billion, however, lawmakers have also made clear that they want more Iron Dome production work to move to the United States to create jobs for Americans and generate new revenues for American firms.

Defense giant Raytheon stands to be the biggest beneficiary, with the Massachusetts-based company signing on as a subcontractor with Rafael.

In March, the United States and Israel signed an Iron Dome agreement that hammered out many of the key details surrounding the new Rafael-Raytheon partnership.

The deal paved the way for 30 percent of Iron Dome production to take place in the United States in 2014 and 55 percent in 2015. Before the March 5 agreement, only 3 percent of U.S. funding on Iron Dome was spent on components bought in the United States, according to a report the Pentagon provided to Congress in April.

Still, some questions remain, particularly about how much starting Iron Dome production in the United States will add to the costs or delay the delivery schedule.

The Pentagon addressed some of those concerns in April, when it sent a report to Congress asserting that Raytheon and Rafael have worked together "to ensure that Raytheon's costs did not exceed Rafael's costs by more than five percent on any particular component." Anything that exceeds this threshold will continue to be bought from Rafael at a lower cost, the report said.

For 2015, the Pentagon requested $175 million for Iron Dome, but the Israeli government went to Capitol Hill this spring and asked Congress to double that amount.

"The reason for this is the impact of the cost of the transfer of production to the U.S., which was not part of the original proposed budget," an Israeli Embassy official told Foreign Policy Monday.

According to a person familiar with the matter, Israel's request came as a bit of a surprise since it came after the March agreement and was done without giving the U.S. Missile Defense Agency a heads up.

Israel's argument that more money was needed due to coproduction costs was met with some skepticism because there is little hard data available yet about how U.S. production may increase costs, the official said.

In their versions of the 2015 defense spending bill, the House Appropriations Committee, the House Armed Services Committee, and the Senate Armed Services Committee have all indicated they'll provide Iron Dome the extra $175 million, but in the reports that accompany the committees' legislation are a long list of questions for the Israelis about how they plan to spend the money.

The House committees have said the money can't be spent until Israel provides the Missile Defense Agency with the information and its director signs off on it. A congressional source said Israel should be able to provide the requested information without a problem.

On Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense -- the last committee to weigh in -- also agreed to double next year's $175 million request, essentially guaranteeing the funding boost.

Correction, July 16, 2014: The first Israeli fatality since its current conflict with Hamas began just over a week ago came from a mortar shell. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said it came from a rocket attack. (Return to reading.)

David Buimovitch/AFP/Getty Images

National Security

Top Marine Commander: Iraq Chaos Shows Costs of U.S. Withdrawal

Stepping into an intensifying political debate, the head of the Marine Corps said the United States doesn't have the luxury of isolationism and said Iraq's deterioration may have been prevented if Washington had maintained a larger U.S. presence there.

The comments from Gen. James Amos, the outgoing commandant of the Marine Corps., come amid sharp divides over who bears responsibility for the takeover of much of Iraq by Islamist militants and whether the United States should pull back from its leadership role on the world stage.

Republican critics of Barack Obama's administration argue that the White House's decision to withdraw all U.S. combat troops from Iraq at the end of 2011 cleared the way for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a hard-line Shiite, to consolidate power and drive the country's Sunni minority into the arms of militants from the Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS, which has conquered broad swaths of central Iraq. The critics also argue that removing all U.S. forces allowed the Iraqi military's fighting capabilities to wither so significantly than many troops abandoned their posts and fled when ISIS militants attacked, leaving the armed group with large caches of advanced and U.S.-provided weaponry.

At the same time, the Republican Party itself has been riven by a fierce internal debate about whether the United States should maintain the type of muscular foreign policy that has characterized the party for decades or adopt a less interventionist approach. The dispute has pitted two presumed 2016 presidential candidates against each other, with Texas Gov. Rick Perry deriding Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, the prime proponent of a more cautious foreign policy, as an isolationist whose views pose dangerous risks to U.S. national security. Paul, in turn, has said that Perry's approach would leave the United States enmeshed in long, messy wars like Afghanistan.

Amos, who is scheduled to retire this fall, offered strong views on both debates. On Iraq, Amos said he believes that the ISIS takeover of central Iraq -- and the growing political fissures between Maliki and the country's embattled Sunni minority -- may have been avoided if the United States hadn't completely withdrawn from the country in 2011.

"I have a hard time believing that had we been there, and worked with the government, and worked with parliament, and worked with the minister of defense, the minister of interior, I don't think we'd be in the same shape we're in today," Amos said during an event at the Brookings Institution.

Amos also had strong words for those who want the United States to pull back from its commitments and responsibilities around the globe.

"We may think we're done with all of these nasty, thorny, tacky little things that are going on around the world -- and I'd argue that if you're in that nation, it's not a tacky, little thing for you. We may think we're done with them, but they're not done with us," Amos said.

He said ISIS's capture of Anbar province, a former insurgent stronghold that had been cleared by U.S. Marines at great cost, was painful for him both personally and professionally.

"It breaks our hearts," Amos said, while quickly rattling off statistics showing what the war in Iraq cost the Marine Corps: 852 killed with another 8,500 injured.

He said that when the Marines left Anbar in 2010, handing operations over to the U.S. Army, they felt good about what they'd accomplished there.

"They believed that they'd made a difference," Amos said.

Now, the Islamic State controls Fallujah and parts of Ramadi, both cities where the Marine Corps spent years fighting and bleeding.

Marines are now in the midst of their withdrawal from Afghanistan's Helmand province, which holds a similar importance to them as Anbar did in Iraq, and it remains uncertain whether the Afghan security forces will be able to hold off Taliban attacks.

Amos said he is confident in the Afghan security forces' ability to fend off the Taliban, but he warned that Afghanistan could collapse like Iraq if the United States pulls out "lock, stock, and barrel."

"There's no question that [the Afghan security forces] would not be able to hold," Amos said.

Still, Amos said he's optimistic about Afghanistan because the administration has agreed to keep 9,800 U.S. troops there until the end of 2015. In May, Obama announced that half of those troops will remain in Afghanistan until 2016. Beyond that, a small military presence will remain at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

"I think now that the president has made the decision to leave 9,800, that there will be continued support for those great warriors and leaders," Amos said about the Afghan security forces.

The four-star rarely shies away from expressing his opinion, even when it contradicts the official White House or Pentagon position. When the Obama administration was pushing to repeal "don't ask don't tell," which forbade gays from serving openly in the military, Amos warned that doing so could have detrimental effects on the Marines' ability to fight. He later embraced the policy change and said his previous concerns were unfounded.

This year, the Pentagon recommended scaling back funding for military commissaries, reducing the average shopper's savings from 30 percent to 10 percent. The Joint Chiefs have defended the proposal on Capitol Hill, but Amos won't get behind it. At Brookings on Tuesday, Amos reiterated his opposition to the idea.

Alex Wong/Getty Images