Security Cooperation with Israel
As Governor Romney visits Israel, the state of U.S. security cooperation with Israel has become part of the political debate. Away from politics, Israeli and American security leaders say that cooperation – and America’s dedication to the security of Israel – is stronger than ever. In a time of change and uncertainty in Middle East, as Newsweek wrote, the two militaries and security establishments have drawn “increasingly close” – even as the Administration also works to build regional ties amid transition.
Israeli security leaders recognize the importance and strength of the relationship:
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak: “I can hardly remember a better period of support, American support and backing and cooperation and similar strategic understanding of events around us than what we have right now.” [Ehud Barak via Fox News, 8/3/11]
Amos Yadlin, former head of the Israel Defense Forces Military Intelligence Directorate: “What is unique in the Obama administration is their decision that in spite of the disagreements on the political level, the military and intelligence relationship which benefits both sides will not be spoiled by the political tension.” [Amos Yadlin via Newsweek, 9/25/11]
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed all Israelis after the U.S. came to the assistance of besieged Israeli diplomats in Egypt: “I would like to express my gratitude to the President of the United States, Barack Obama. I asked for his help. This was a decisive and fateful moment. He said, ‘I will do everything I can.’ And so he did. He used every considerable means and influence of the United States to help us. We owe him a special measure of gratitude. This attests to the strong alliance between Israel and the United States. This alliance between Israel and the United States is especially important in these times of political storms and upheavals in the Middle East.” [Benjamin Netanyahu, 9/10/11]
Security assistance and military and intelligence cooperation are at unprecedented levels.
Increased security assistance: Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro explains, “The most direct tool that the United States uses to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge is security assistance… The Obama Administration is proud to carry on the legacy of robust U.S. security assistance for Israel. Indeed, we are carrying this legacy to new heights at a time when Israel needs our support to address the multifaceted threats it faces. Despite these budget constrained times our commitment is unshakeable. For Fiscal Year 2012, the Administration requested more than $3 billion in security assistance funding specifically for Israel, the largest such request in U.S. history… Our funding commitment directly supports Israel’s security, as it allows Israel to purchase the sophisticated defense equipment it needs to protect itself, deter aggressors, and maintain its qualitative military edge.” [Andrew Shapiro, 11/4/11]
Military cooperation: Eli Lake of Newsweek reported last September that the administration has given “support that has drawn the two nations’ militaries increasingly close even as their leaders seem politely distant. The aid, U.S. and Israeli officials confirmed to Newsweek, includes the long-delayed delivery of 55 powerful GBU-28 Hard Target Penetrators, better known as bunker-buster bombs, deemed important to any future military strike against Iranian nuclear sites. It also includes a network of proposed radar sites—some located in Arab neighbors—designed to help Israel repel a missile attack, as well as joint military exercises and regular national-security consultations.” [Eli Lake, 9/25/11. Ehud Barak via Fox News, 8/3/11]
Iron Dome: Shapiro explains, “last year, the President asked Congress to authorize $205 million to support the production of an Israeli-developed short range rocket defense system called Iron Dome. The funding for Iron Dome is above and beyond the $3 billion in Foreign Military Financing we provide. Iron Dome is part of a comprehensive layered defense against the threat of short range rockets fired at the Israeli population. Our funding enables Israel to expand and accelerate Iron Dome production and deployment and improve its multi-tiered defense against short-range rockets. This system is proving its worth. Having deployed several Iron Dome units to protect areas in southern Israel, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak noted that Iron Dome was showing ‘exceptional’ result.” [Andrew Shapiro, 11/4/11]
Marshaling regional partners Israeli security: Lake further elaborates on the regional diplomatic and security workings: “The Obama administration also initiated a diplomatic effort to persuade Arab and Muslim states in the Middle East like Saudi Arabia and Turkey to commit to an ambitious plan to inter-connect their missile defenses with Israel’s. This topic is particularly sensitive because most Arab states today have no formal diplomatic ties with Israel, and those that do have seen a downgrade in relations since the start of the Arab Spring protests… This vision of an interconnected missile defense for U.S. allies in the Middle East started all the way back with Ronald Reagan. But it is Obama who has pushed it into implementation.” [Eli Lake, 9/25/11]
U.S. and Israel security establishments are intertwined at many levels: Shapiro outlines how deeply the two countries’ security establishments are deeply intertwined: “For instance, joint exercises allow us to learn from Israel’s experience in urban warfare and counterterrorism. Israeli technology is proving critical to improving our Homeland Security and protecting our troops. One only has to look at Afghanistan and Iraq, where Israeli armor plating technology is being used on U.S. military vehicles and innovative equipment, such as the specially designed ‘Israeli bandage,’ is being used to treat our troops. The links between our two governments and U.S. and Israeli defense companies have yielded important groundbreaking innovations that ultimately make us all safer. This involves sensors, unmanned aerial vehicle technology, surveillance equipment, and detection devices to seek out IED’s that support our forces.” [Andrew Shapiro, 11/4/11]
Relationships at the highest levels have been intense through agreement, disagreement — demonstrating America’s commitment. USA Today notes the intense relationship between the two heads of government: “Obama and Netanyahu have a famously complicated relationship. But the two men have worked closely together over the past three years… Obama has met with Netanyahu more often than he has with any other world leader.” Peter Baker of the New York Times wrote yesterday, “[O]fficials in Jerusalem can’t complain that they are starved for high-level attention lately. Even as Mitt Romney opened a foreign trip that will take him to Israel this weekend, President Obama sent his counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, to visit on Wednesday, the latest in a parade of administration officials to make the journey in recent days. Mr. Brennan follows Thomas E. Donilon, the president’s national security adviser, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who have made separate trips there over the last two weeks. After Mr. Brennan leaves, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta plans to head to Israel in the days after Mr. Romney’s visit. And Mr. Obama’s campaign surrogates said this week that he would make his first trip as president to Israel in a second term.”
This pattern has been consistent throughout Obama’s first term: Secretary Clinton visited then newly elected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2009, and again in 2010 around the same time as Vice President Joe Biden. [USA Today, 3/5/12. Peter Baker, 7/26/12. JTA, 7/25/12. Al Monitor 7/9/12. Politico, 7/23/12]