Editor: Together with your colleagues on the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, you helped to secure significant U.S. funding for the Iron Dome. What are its origins? When did the U.S. decide to help Israel with this system? Why is it important to a de-escalation of violence?
Rothman: From 2005 to 2013, I was privileged to serve as a member of the 15-person House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. As such, I was involved in helping determine the short- and long-term missions, strategies and weapon systems to protect not only the United States and our forces, but also our most important national security allies. In that context, I worked with the Defense Subcommittee leadership and the White House to analyze the Iron Dome’s usefulness, not only for Israel, but also for the United States.
The Iron Dome System is a mobile anti-rocket system that was first imagined and manufactured exclusively by the State of Israel in response to rockets fired upon Israeli civilian populations, starting in the 1990s, by the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terrorist group, as well as the Hamas terrorist group located in Gaza. I refer to both groups as "terrorist" because the U.S. government and the international community deem them as such.
To put a finer point on it, while the Fatah Party of the Palestinian Authority, under Mahmoud Abbas, has now accepted the notion of a two-state solution (Israel and Palestine), Hamas rejects that entirely. Hamas, as per its charter, seeks to destroy Israel and pledges never to allow Israel’s existence (within any boundaries) and to bring about a worldwide Islamic Caliphate governed by Sharia law. Hamas was established in Gaza as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1989, some 41 years after the U.S., U.N., and the vast majority of the world community recognized the independence and statehood of Israel in 1948.
Simply put, the Iron Dome System launches a projectile against only those rockets or missiles that the pre-programmed System assesses to be a threat to populated areas under its protection, within a 2- to 45-mile radius. Hence, during the most recent fighting in Gaza, the Iron Dome System "ignored" approximately 75 percent of the rockets fired into Israel from Gaza because it deemed them (correctly) to be ones landing in unpopulated areas of Israel. As of this writing, when Iron Dome chooses to intercept an incoming rocket or missle, it has a success rate of 90 percent.
The reason why Iron Dome has become so important, for both Israelis and Gazans, is that if Iron Dome did not exist, many of the more than 3,300 rockets fired by Hamas into Israel's civilian populations during the last 30 days alone (including into its biggest cities such as Tel Aviv and Haifa) would have killed thousands of Israeli civilians, with many more thousands injured. Israel would not have stood by and watched this happen. More deadly hostilities would have erupted, with many more deaths and casualties in Gaza as well.
So Iron Dome, while a "defensive" system, is also one that clearly prevents the escalation of conflict.
In the late 1990s, the United States was first offered an opportunity to assist Israel in the development of Iron Dome, but the Bush administration deemed the Iron Dome concept unworthy of pursuing. With the swearing in of President Obama in 2009, the U.S. started to take a closer look. I worked with several other members of Congress, the new administration, and the U.S. and Israeli Missile Defense leadership to assist in that regard.
In 2010, President Obama proposed $205 million for Israel’s Iron Dome in his budget – before Congress drafted its own budget. In the weeks, months and years that followed, I also worked closely with my colleagues on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and with the leadership of the U.S. and Israeli Missile Defense programs to establish information-sharing and funding protocols and co-production agreements for Israel’s Iron Dome System and for joint U.S.-Israeli antimissile systems such as David's Sling (with a range of 43 to 180 miles), Arrow 2 (60 miles) and Arrow 3 (180 miles).
The Iron Dome and its now-shared technology and battlefield lessons give the U.S. the tools it needs to protect its troops and its civilians, not only in the Middle East, but in other theaters of conflict as well. In addition, this defensive system (as well as the joint U.S.-Israeli systems mentioned above) have a positive multiplier effect on other military and non-military uses in our country and add to the vitality and cutting-edge status of the U.S.'s military industrial base and know-how.
Editor: This August, President Obama and Congress approved $225 million in additional emergency Iron Dome funding. How did this come about?
Rothman: In Fiscal Year 2014, the U.S. provided Israel and U.S. defense manufacturers, who are co-producing Iron Dome batteries and interceptors, with $175 million. The U.S. House and Senate just raised that figure to $350 million for fiscal year 2015.
However, on July 23, 2014, in response to the continuing deadly Hamas rocket assault on Israeli civilian populations, President Obama asked Congress for an additional $225 million in emergency spending, separate and on top of the 2014 and 2015 fiscal years’ funding. This additional $225 million will be sent directly to Israel immediately – without any U.S. co-production requirements. This emergency funding will not only help Israel add to its number of Iron Dome batteries and to replenish its supply of interceptors, but will also assist the Israeli economy, which has suffered during the last months and counting. The House and Senate completed their approval of the President’s request on August 2, 2014.
Editor: In light of the significant cuts to the defense budget, what are some of the challenges facing the Appropriations Defense Subcommittee today?
Rothman: As you may know, the 2011 Budget Sequester Act that first took effect in 2012 and is scheduled to last through 2021 resulted in reduced spending for U.S. military programs. Given these realities, the Pentagon must now look at virtually every aspect of its national security agenda, weapons systems and personnel costs to achieve savings. We have the most dedicated, well-trained, well-equipped, and courageous military one could hope for, with many extremely bright and talented people at the top and throughout our military services. Every day, our nation’s military leaders are making the very tough decisions about where to allocate our finite, and now smaller than anticipated, defense budgets.
Editor: The U.S. military is the second-largest employer in the state of New Jersey. What can New Jersey do not only to protect its economy against defense budget cuts and a probable BRAC round but also come out on top of the competition for defense dollars?
Rothman: After the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) recommendations were authorized by Congress, they were put into effect by President Obama. Given the significant reduction in forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, coupled with the sequester’s continuing budgetary squeeze and the growing costs of healthcare for millions of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, calls are increasingly being heard for a new BRAC. Those voices, so far, have been shouted down by Congress. However, with the growing pressure of tighter defense budgets, it is only a matter of time before the Pentagon gets its way and “surplus” bases and facilities are either eliminated or consolidated in another round of BRAC.
New Jersey, however, is blessed to have two very effective congressional leaders who will have as significant an influence over any new BRAC as anyone on Capitol Hill: the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Menendez, and the chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen. Their deep knowledge of defense policy and decades of relationships with military decision-makers, along with the respect they have from their colleagues, will be a potent asset for New Jersey as any future BRAC moves forward.
Also, the well-known cohesion and strength of the rest of the New Jersey congressional delegation, especially when it comes to matters affecting New Jersey, will be of invaluable assistance. Combining that expertise and clout with the well-coordinated efforts of our state and local governments, as well as New Jersey’s private sector defense industry, should make for a strong team to defend and grow the presence in New Jersey of our nation's military facilities and industrial base.
Editor: In several talks, you’ve described a need for the defense industry to have a greater understanding of the future needs and changing priorities of the DOD in order to secure defense dollars and boost local economies. What practical steps can a business take to better predict and benefit from those needs?
Rothman: For an industry so dependent on federal policy and spending decisions, it is absolutely essential for firms in the defense sector to have a real-time, ongoing awareness of deliberations on Capitol Hill, at the Pentagon and in the White House.
The reduction in defense spending has caused challenges for many New Jersey companies as well as the U.S. military. Doing more with less requires every defense-related business to be more agile, to be even more attuned to the missions set by Capitol Hill, the Pentagon and the White House, and to have people both proficient in and skilled at making their cases on the myriad of subjects and priorities that are the most welcome and current in Washington.
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Steven R. Rothman is the former eight-term U.S. Congressman for New Jersey's 9th Congressional District (1997-2013). As a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, Steve is well acknowledged to have successfully spearheaded the efforts to provide U.S. funding for Iron Dome, all joint U.S.-Israel missile defense systems, and other vital U.S. defense programs. Former Congressman Rothman is an active Member of the Litigation, Real Estate, Corporate Practice and Government Relations/Public Policy Groups and heads the firm's Interdisciplinary Defense Practice.