WASHINGTON (JTA) — This is a unique time in the Jewish calendar, a period when bitterness and sweetness are mixed together. The just concluded Passover holiday marks the journey of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Holy Land. Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorates the murder of 6 million innocent Jewish martyrs and heroes. Israeli Memorial Day is observed with solemnity as Israelis gather by the gravesides of their fallen soldiers, and is followed immediately by Israeli Independence Day, a joyous and celebratory occasion.
In many ways this is the Jewish experience, where life is celebrated with zest but is tinged with a history that at times is painful. While we celebrate the modern-day miracle that is the State of Israel, a nation that is blooming in a desert oasis, the ominous threats surrounding the Jewish state remain ever present.
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.
For years Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups had been attacking Israel in this way, with their rockets gaining greater range and accuracy as time passed. Numerous Israelis were killed or wounded, and entire communities were paralyzed. No country on the planet would tolerate this type of terrorist brutality. Israel was left with no choice but to defend its population 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 the United States 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 defensively enter Gaza. There were no Gazan civilian casualties, no international protests, and no isolation for the U.S. and Israel.
In 2008, Hamas left Israel virtually no choice but war, but this year Israel felt no need to make war. Iron Dome has given Israel the operational flexibility to decide if and when to make war. And if war against terrorism indeed becomes necessary, Israel will be better able to protect its homeland.
The success of the Iron Dome is great news for Israel – and for the United States. Not only does it reduce the likelihood of Israeli-Palestinian armed conflict, but it also eliminates the ability of Palestinian extremists to draw Israel into deadly armed conflict.
Reducing that prospect has many salutary effects. It removes an impediment to negotiations, should Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas ever decide he is ready to negotiate. And it limits the prospect that another Middle East crisis will emerge when the Iranian nuclear threat, the civil war in Syria and uncertainty in Egypt already pose a significant threat to U.S. and Israeli security.
Only three Iron Dome batteries are now operational, which is a problem for Israel. 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 where a rocket was recently fired at Eilat, adds an ominous new threat.
In order to strengthen Israel’s defensive capabilities and reduce the prospect of crisis and war, I have introduced legislation authorizing the United States to provide Israel with financial support for additional Iron Dome batteries. Helping Israel defend itself and averting regional crises is squarely in the U.S. interest. Contributing to Israel’s purchase of additional Iron Dome batteries would be the epitome of money well spent.
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.”
The Iron Dome is no guarantee that Palestinian extremists won’t pick a fight with Israel. But it is a near guarantee that Israel will only commit its soldiers to combat when it alone chooses.
The Iron Dome enhances stability in Middle East. That’s why the United States should get behind it and support Israeli efforts to build more.
(U.S. Rep. Howard Berman of California is the top-ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.)