Senator Rand Paul blocks US funding for Israel's Iron Dome
US Republican Senator Rand Paul has blocked efforts to fast-track a bill that would have provided $1 billion of funding for Israel’s Iron Dome weapons system.
Senators were seeking to "hotline" the bill, meaning that 100 senators would agree to allow the bill to be taken straight to a vote on the floor.
"The billion dollars under consideration today is on top of the more than 1.6 billion the US has already given for Iron Dome," the senator said.
"And that's not all. The US provides Israel with just under $4 billion in aid annually. To date, the United States has provided over $146 billion in aid to Israel. In addition to Iron Dome, the US has helped Israel fund other missile defence systems as well," he continued.
The controversial bill was originally held up in Congress for ten days when progressive Democrats blocked the funding, pointing to Israel's brutal May assault on Gaza and continued attacks on Palestinian civilians in the occupied West Bank.
New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was one of those leading efforts to block the bill.
"The president and many other figures this week stated that Israel has a right to defend itself, and this is a sentiment that's echoed across this body. But do Palestinians have a right to survive? Do we believe that?" Ocasio-Cortez said.
She later chose to abstain from the vote, drawing the ire of many pro-Palestinian activists who branded her a "hypocrite".
Other US senators urged their colleagues to approve the funding for the weapons system, with Democratic New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez being highly vocal and introducing a motion to accelerate the bill's passage through the Senate.
"There is no conceivable reason why anyone in this chamber on either side of the aisle should stand in the way of US support for this lifesaving defence to be fully ready for the next attack," Menendez said.
"I strongly urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join the House of Representatives in passing this funding on a broadly bipartisan effort," he added.
While supportive of Israel and its Iron Dome system, Rand says that funding for the programme should be taken out of a $6 billion package that has been earmarked for use in Afghanistan.
"I think the American taxpayer dollars that pay for it should come from money that could go to the Taliban," said Paul.
"That money, I think, could be spent on the Taliban, if we do not rescind that money."
Senator Menendez rejected these assertions, insisting that the money was not being sent to the Taliban, but was to be used in ongoing efforts to get US allies out of Afghanistan.
"This amendment would slash refugee assistance being used at this very moment to evacuate and resettle US allies and partners who served alongside Americans in the war on terror," Menendez said.
US groups supportive of Israel were quick to admonish Paul for blocking the spending bill.
"Iron Dome is a matter of life and death for Israelis and Palestinians, and Senator Paul, true to form, is treating the replenishment of this vital system as a political game," Christians United For Israel founder Pastor John Hagee said.
Further criticism was cast at the Kentucky senator by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
"Today, Rand Paul joined Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Thomas Massie in not supporting emergency funding for Iron Dome," the group tweeted.
Israel’s Iron Dome weapons system was used frequently to counter rockets from Gaza during the last May's conflict, when Israel launched a deadly assault on the besieged strip, killing 248 Palestinians, included 66 children and 39 women.
Palestinians in Gaza have no air defences to protect them from Israeli air raids.