Senate Weighs Bill Boosting U.S.-Israeli Military Ties, Satellite Intelligence Sharing
TEL AVIV, Israel — Shared satellite intelligence, aerial refueling tankers, specialized munitions and surplus drawdown gear from Iraq are just a few of the perquisites for Israel laid out in legislation making its way through the U.S. Senate.
Passed May 9 by the House of Representatives, the U.S.-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act of 2012 is now under review by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. A Senate aide said the bill has amassed nearly 50 co-sponsors and is expected to pass “by a lopsided margin or even unanimous vote” once it reaches the Senate floor.
The unprecedented spectrum of policy proclamations and security upgrades contained in the bill reflects traditional bipartisan and bicameral support for Israel that has intensified in the run-up to U.S. elections in November.
“There should not be one scintilla of light between the positions of Republicans and Democrats on the issue of the security of Israel,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.). “I am proud to join my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, in both chambers, in reaffirming the U.S. commitment to Israel through this critically important legislation.”
The bill was introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).
In addition to extending U.S. government-backed loan guarantees to Israel through 2015, both bills urge expanded technology sharing and joint military exercises.
Specifically, lawmakers call for the United States to:
- Expand already-close intelligence cooperation, including satellite intelligence.
- Provide through possible lend-lease arrangements new weaponry, including air refueling tankers, missile defense capabilities and “specialized munitions.”
- Improve the process for Israel’s purchase of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to allow for greater cost efficiencies and “on-time delivery.”
- Expand joint military exercises to address emerging common threats.
- Offer the Israel Air Force additional training opportunities in the United States to compensate for Israel’s limited air space.
- Encourage an expanded role for Israel within NATO, “including enhanced presence at NATO headquarters and exercises.”
- Make surplus defense gear and services available to Israel, particularly those resulting from the U.S. pullout from Iraq.
- Strengthen efforts to prevent weapon smuggling into Gaza and threats infiltrating from the Sinai peninsula.
- Allocate additional weaponry and munitions and extend the time allocated for U.S. war reserves stockpiled in Israel.
- Expand bilateral cooperation in homeland security, counterterrorism, maritime security, energy, cybersecurity and related areas.
- Take action to integrate Israel into the U.S. defense network for the eastern Mediterranean.
Finally, the bill passed by the House authorizes Israel’s expanded use of grant military aid to be applied more broadly for commercial rather than foreign military sales.
The enhancements come in addition to more than $3 billion in annual U.S. grant military aid to Israel and a separate bill pending in both houses of Congress for another $680 million in multiyear funding for Israel’s Iron Dome rocket defense system.
Under an agreement signed May 17 by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Israel will receive $70 million of the planned Iron Dome funding bonus by the end of October.
“Security for Israel and defense of the Jewish homeland is not a partisan political issue; it’s an American imperative,” said Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), lead sponsor of the Iron Dome Support Act.
Different versions of the security cooperation bill reaffirm U.S. government policy to “support Israel’s inherent right to self-defense” and to veto “any one-sided anti-Israel resolutions” in the U.N. Security Council.
The bills also reiterate U.S. policy obligations to “assist Israel with its ongoing efforts to forge a peaceful, negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” and to “encourage Israel’s neighbors to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.”
Neither bill mentions long-standing U.S. policy objections to Israel’s expanding settlement of disputed territory in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which many in the region and beyond view as a key obstacle to normalized ties to the Jewish state.
Invoking nearly identical language, House and Senate lawmakers underscored Washington’s commitment to Israel’s so-called qualitative military edge in light of new and escalating threats. Both versions urge the administration to provide “the military capabilities necessary” to deter and defend against any threats, including increased development and production of joint missile defense systems.
Within 180 days of its enactment into law, the act directs U.S. President Barack Obama to report on specific steps his administration is taking to preserve Israel’s qualitative military edge.