Please Help ZNet
Like Nora Berman (“I’m a leftist. Progressives’ move to strip Iron Dome from spending bill smacks of ignorance,” Forward, Sept. 22, 2021), I am a leftist. But unlike her, I think the attempt to remove Iron Dome from the spending bill was the moral thing to do.
Let me stipulate at once that I consider intentional or reckless attacks on civilians to be war crimes, violations of international humanitarian law, and of just war principles.
How can I oppose attacks on civilians and still support cutting funding from a program designed to protect civilians?
The first point to note here is that money provided to the Israeli government is fungible. That is, Washington is not sending technology to Israel, but dollars, and by reducing the amount of money that Israel needs to spend on Iron Dome, we are correspondingly increasing the amount of money that Israel gets to spend on the rest of its military budget, on its attack planes, tanks, rockets, and artillery that have slain so many Palestinian civilians. (Keep in mind, that according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, in its various assaults on Gaza since 2008, Israel has killed 2,685 Palestinian civilians, while Palestinian rockets and mortars have killed 29 civilians in Israel – almost a 100:1 ratio.)
Many point out that any government has to prioritize the protection of its citizens. But consider what the Israeli government would do if the United States did not provide $1 billion in funds for Iron Dome. It could reduce its other military spending – spending on those attack planes, etc. – by $1 billion and transfer that money to Iron Dome spending. If it did that it would provide its population with a higher level of protection while reducing its own capacity to endanger Palestinian civilians. A win-win. If it did not transfer the money, well, that suggests that protecting its own citizens might not be its top priority.
How can we refuse to provide funding to protect civilians? Ms. Berman asks. But does this concern apply to all civilians, or only to Israeli civilians? For a lot less than $1 billion, we could protect the lives of many civilians by sending bomb shelter construction materials to Gaza, not to mention shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles.
Of course, it will be objected that better bomb shelters in Gaza would lead to more reckless behavior by Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders. Being better protected they would have less reason to refrain from launching rocket attacks from Gaza.
But the same logic applies in the other direction. Following Israel’s 2008-09 Operation Cast Lead, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni commented that Israel had demonstrated “real hooliganism.”  The only thing that keeps Israeli leaders from pummeling Gaza even more often than they already do is the knowledge that their attack will unleash Palestinian rockets. If Israel were invulnerable to those rockets, it would be less deterred from bombarding Gaza.
Iron Dome, bomb shelters, and so on seem like totally defensive measures. But it is a truism of peace research that “When combined with offensive arms, even apparently purely defensive arms can become highly offensive.”  That’s why the Kennedy and Reagan bomb shelter programs were so dangerous – they signaled to the Soviet Union that Washington was more willing to launch a nuclear strike. That’s why the peace movement opposed Reagan’s Star Wars program, which likewise threatened to render the Soviet retaliatory second-strike capability worthless. If a country decided to field only defensive weapons, that would be a wonderful thing. But a defensive weapon like Iron Dome, when combined with one of the world’s leading offensive military machines, is not defensive.
Pressure Israel to stop building settlements, says Ms. Berman. But giving them $1 billion in fungible money for a weapon system that will encourage further Israeli “hooliganism” is not likely to put much pressure on Israeli leaders.
The progressive legislators who wanted to remove those billion dollars from the spending bill were doing the right thing.
Stephen R. Shalom is professor emeritus of Political Science at William Paterson University and a member of Jewish Voice for Peace of Northern NJ. The views expressed are his own.
- Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI), No Second Thoughts: The Changes in the Israeli Defense Forces’ Combat Doctrine in Light of “Operation Cast Lead,” Nov. 2009, p. 28, citing an interview with Israel Channel 10 news, Jan. 19, 2009.
2. Dietrich Fischer, Preventing War in the Nuclear Age (1984), p. 58.