rooftop shout

Graham says Israel will seek $1 billion in additional funding for Iron Dome, anticipates Democratic support

In Israel, the GOP senator discussed the Iron Dome system, partisanship over Israel and a new Iran deal proposal

Maya Alleruzzo/AP

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) speaks to journalists in Jerusalem during his visit to Israel, Tuesday, June 1, 2021.

In a press conference from the roof of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on Tuesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said that the Israeli government plans to seek significant additional funding for the Iron Dome missile defense system and announced a new bipartisan proposal to counter Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Graham said Israel will request $1 billion in Pentagon funding to replenish and upgrade the Iron Dome system, which intercepted thousands of rockets aimed at Israel during the recent conflict with Hamas. Defense Minister Benny Gantz is expected to make the ask during meetings with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin later this week.

“Iron Dome performed incredibly well, saving thousands of Israeli lives and tens of thousands of Palestinian lives,” Graham said. “I would imagine that the administration would say yes to this request and it will sail through Congress.”

The new funding will likely have support from the majority of Congress, though the request is likely to raise controversy among some congressional Democrats. Last month, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and several House Democrats led by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) attempted to block a $735 million sale of guided munitions to the Jewish state. 

Graham sought to downplay the extent of Democratic opposition to the aid, despite efforts by some Republicans to accuse Democrats at large — and President Joe Biden specifically — of having abandoned Israel and sided with Hamas.

“There’s been a big dustup over the last engagement with Hamas and the State of Israel in the United States, but I’m here to tell you there is a wide and deep support for Israel among the Democratic Party,” he said. “I want to thank President Biden for standing with Israel during this last conflict. I appreciate the administration’s willingness to seek from Congress more money for the Iron Dome system.”

Some of the House’s strongest critics of U.S. aid to Israel — including Reps. Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Betty McCollum (D-MN) — have expressed support for Iron Dome as a life-saving tool.

The South Carolina senator also discussed plans to propose an alternative to the Biden administration’s moves to seek a “longer and stronger” nuclear deal with Iran amid ongoing negotiations in Vienna.

“If the international community allows the Iranians to enrich, the Arabs are going to want that same capability, and we’re off on the road of a nuclear arms race in the Mideast,” the senator said on Tuesday. “‘Longer and stronger’ is not possible,” he added.

Graham said that he — along with Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and an opponent of the 2015 deal — are planning to propose an alternative deal that would allow Iran and Arab states to develop nuclear reactors to be powered with fuel from an international fuel bank. That proposal would prevent participating states from conducting enrichment.

“Without enrichment, you can’t make a bomb,” Graham explained, adding that such a proposal would test whether Iran is sincere about wanting nuclear power, rather than a nuclear bomb.

Graham also announced plans to propose a defense agreement with Israel similar to Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization treaty, which would obligate the U.S. to intervene when Israel is attacked.

Graham has met with high-ranking Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, Gantz and opposition leader Yair Lapid, since arriving in Israel on Monday. 

The senator met on Monday with Netanyahu, who lauded Graham saying “no one has done more for Israel than you, Lindsey.”

“Nobody does more to protect America from radical Islam than our friends in Israel,” Graham responded, brandishing a sign reading “More for Israel” in English and Hebrew. “This sign says all you need to know about my trip. What happens with Iran matters not only to America but the world.”

Speaking to reporters, Graham acknowledged Netanyahu’s precarious political position as Lapid and Yamina head Naftali Bennett appear close to forming a coalition government.

“No matter who they select to run the government here in Israel, American will be in your camp,” Graham said in the press conference. “If a new government is formed, the relationship will stay the same between us and Israel.”

“If you like politics, this is the place to come,” Graham quipped in a video on Tuesday.