Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes is being criticized for suggesting Israel’s missile defense system helps the country defend against tunnels used by Hamas militants.
The comments have inserted foreign affairs back into Kentucky’s U.S. Senate race as Grimes seeks to defeat longtime Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell this fall.
During a campaign rally in Lexington on Tuesday, Grimes, who is Kentucky’s secretary of state, was asked about U.S. efforts to boost funding for Israel’s so-called Iron Dome air defense.
“Obviously, Israel is one of our strongest allies in the Middle East, and she has the right to defend herself,” Grimes said. “But the loss of life, especially the innocent civilians in Gaza, is a tragedy. The Iron Dome has been a big reason why Israel has been able to withstand the terrorists that have tried to tunnel their way in.
“My hope is that a cease-fire can be structured. Ultimately, I think the long-term solution though is not one we can impose. It has to come from within. It’s a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine.”
The Iron Dome was developed by Israel three years ago to intercept short-range missiles and rockets. It has been credited with blocking hundreds of air attacks by Hamas shot from the Gaza strip into Israeli communities.
McConnell campaign officials and others on Wednesday questioned whether Grimes understood what the Iron Dome does.
“I’m sure today her advisers are trying to figure out a way to put this back in the box by adding a comma or a period, and pretend like she didn’t say what she said,” said Josh Holmes, a senior adviser for Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell’s campaign.
“But the bottom line is what she did say is that Iron Dome helps stop terrorists from tunneling into Israel. It doesn’t, it’s an air defense shield.
“Alison Lundergan Grimes has demonstrated time and time again when she’s asked specifics about her views of various world events that she’s shown she has a less than impressive level of knowledge.”
Grimes campaign officials swatted away those criticisms by clarifying the air defense system “allows Israel to focus resources on tunnels,” according to a spokeswoman.
“The Iron Dome is an integral part of Israel’s defense system which allows them defend themselves against missiles and focus their efforts on eradicating the terrorists who try to tunnel their way in,” Grimes told WFPL in a statement Wednesday.
A spokesman from a pro-Israeli group in Louisville said Grimes’ comments in the Herald-Leader did speak to overall defense efforts to stop Hamas activity, but he reiterated the Iron Dome does not defend Israel against Hamas’ underground tunnel system.
“The Iron Dome system protects Israel from terrorist activities,” said Matt Goldberg, spokesman for the Jewish Community of Louisville. “It’s a specific kind of terrorist activity. It certainly has no effect on the tunnels. It’s meant to shoot down rockets, but still I don’t think there’s anything in particular that’s inconsistent with what Ms. Grimes has said.”
Congress is debating a $225 million aid package for Israel this week to strengthen its air defense.
Last week, McConnell took to the Senate floor and said Republicans were united in supporting the aid package. But U.S. lawmakers have failed thus far to hold a vote on the issue.
Grimes supports providing funding for Israel’s missile defense system, according to a campaign spokeswoman.