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Andrew Shapiro, the assistant secretary of State for political-military affairs, explained how the Obama administration has boosted U.S. aid to Israel.
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The United States and Israel are working together to defeat common threats. The two allies participate in joint military exercises such as Juniper Cobra.

State Department Praises U.S.-Israel
Strategic Alliance

Andrew Shapiro, the assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, discussed the U.S.-Israel strategic alliance, emphasizing the importance of maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region. The following is an abridged version of the remarks he delivered on July 16, 2010, at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy. Read his full speech here.

For decades, the cornerstone of our security commitment to Israel has been an assurance that the United States would help Israel uphold its qualitative military edge (QME)—a commitment that was written into law in 2008. Israel’s QME is its ability to counter and defeat credible military threats from any individual state, coalition of states, or non-state actor, while sustaining minimal damages or casualties. The Obama administration has demonstrated its commitment to Israel’s QME not only by sustaining and building upon practices established by prior administrations, but also by undertaking new initiatives to make our security relationship more intimate than ever before.

Each and every security assistance request from the Israeli government is evaluated in light of our policy to uphold Israel’s qualitative military edge. At the same time, QME considerations extend to our decisions on defense cooperation with all other governments in the region. This means that as a matter of policy, we will not proceed with any release of military equipment or services that may pose a risk to allies or contribute to regional insecurity in the Middle East.

The primary tool that the United States uses to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge is security assistance. For some three decades, Israel has been the leading beneficiary of U.S. security assistance through the Foreign Military Financing program, or FMF. Currently, Israel receives almost $3 billion per year in U.S. funding for training and equipment under FMF. The total FMF account is $5 billion annually and is distributed among some 70 countries. So, it is a testament to our special security relationship that each year, Israel accounts for just over 50 percent of U.S. security assistance funding distributed through FMF.

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.

For fiscal year 2010, the administration requested $2.775 billion in security assistance funding specifically for Israel, the largest such request in U.S. history. Congress fully funded our request for FY 2010, and we have requested even more—$3.0 billion—for FY 2011. These requests fulfill the administration’s commitment to implementing the 2007 Memorandum of Understanding with Israel to provide $30 billion in security assistance over 10 years.

This 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. Today, I can assure you that—even in challenging budgetary times—this administration will continue to honor this 10-year, $30 billion commitment in future fiscal years.

But, our unique security assistance relationship with Israel extends beyond raw numbers. Unlike other beneficiaries of Foreign Military Financing, which are legally required to spend funds in the United States, Israel is the only country authorized to set aside one-quarter of its FMF funding for off-shore procurements. This exception provides a significant boost for Israel’s domestic defense industry, helps it to develop indigenous production capacity, and is one of many ways we demonstrate our commitment to meeting Israel’s unique security requirements.

A second way we build Israel’s qualitative military edge is through training and joint military exercises, such as last fall’s Juniper Cobra 2009 ballistic missile defense exercise. More than 1,000 U.S. troops participated in Juniper Cobra, which was the largest U.S.-Israeli exercise in history. U.S. and Israeli forces take part in numerous exercises each year to test operational concepts, improve interoperability and focus on urban terrain and counterterrorism operations. These collaborative efforts enhance Israel’s military capabilities and improve our own military’s understanding of and relationship with the Israel Defense Forces.

In addition, many Israeli officers and enlisted personnel attend U.S. military schools, such as the National War College, where they can acquire essential professional skills and build lifelong relationships with their U.S. military and other foreign counterparts.

Third, the United States supports Israel’s defense needs through both our government-to-government Foreign Military Sales program and Direct Commercial Sales, including releasing advanced products restricted to only the closest of allies and partners. In the past few years, we have notified Congress of a number of significant sales aimed at preserving Israel’s qualitative military edge, most notably the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The F-35’s advanced capabilities will prove a key contribution to upholding Israel’s QME for many years to come.

Israel further benefits from a war reserve stockpile, which is maintained in Israel by the U.S. European Command and used to boost Israeli defenses in case of a significant military emergency. And, like many of our partners overseas, Israel is also able to access millions of dollars in free or discounted military equipment each year through the Department of Defense’s Excess Defense Articles program.

Fourth, the United States and Israel have long cooperated in research and development of military equipment. Given the threat Israel faces from short- and medium-range missiles, Israeli air and missile defense systems are an area of particular focus, including the Arrow Weapon System, to counter long-range ballistic missile threats, and David’s Sling, to defend against short-range ballistic missiles. For our part, we are working with Israel to upgrade its Patriot Air and Missile Defense System, which was first deployed during the Gulf War, and have installed advanced radar systems to provide Israel with early warning of incoming missiles.

Israeli-origin equipment deployed on Iraqi and Afghan battlefields is protecting American troops every day. This includes armor plating technology for U.S. military vehicles and unique medical solutions, such as the “Israeli bandage”—a specially designed antibiotic-treated dressing that has been used widely by our men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also includes sensors, surveillance equipment, unmanned aerial vehicle technology and detection devices to seek out improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Many such partnerships and investments between our two governments and U.S. and Israeli defense firms have yielded important groundbreaking innovations that ultimately make us all safer.

What I have laid out here represents the core pillars of U.S.-Israeli security cooperation. But given the breadth of our relationship, I have only really begun to scratch the surface. The United States and Israel are also working closely in a series of other activities to enhance our shared security, from efforts to shut down the vast network of tunnels being used to rearm Hamas to tracking and combating terrorist financing, to countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, their delivery systems and related materials through the Proliferation Security Initiative.

Let me now turn to another area where we are deepening our security relationship with Israel. The rocket threats from Hizballah and Hamas represent the most immediate challenge. This is a very real daily concern for ordinary Israelis living in border towns, such as Sderot, who know that a rocket fired from Gaza may come crashing down at any moment. As a senator, President Obama traveled to Israel and met with families whose homes had been destroyed by rockets. So, the president understands this threat. Secretary Clinton understands it. And, I understand it.

That is why earlier this spring, the president asked Congress to authorize $205 million to support the production of an Israeli-developed short-range rocket defense system called Iron Dome. This $205 million for Iron Dome, which has been authorized by the House, is above and beyond the $3 billion in Foreign Military Financing that the administration requested for Israel in FY 2011. One of my colleagues in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs recently had a chance to see the Iron Dome training battery while in Israel for bilateral consultations and was able to witness a simulation of the system’s promising new capabilities.

Iron Dome will be part of comprehensive layered defense against the threat of short-range rockets fired at the Israeli population. This funding will allow Israel to expand and accelerate Iron Dome production and deployment to provide timely improvements to its multi-tiered defense. This step is one in a series that demonstrates the strength of our mutual defense relationship and shows how serious we are about ensuring that our enhanced security dialogues translate into action.

Iron Dome fills a gap in Israel’s multi-tiered defense system. Israel has conducted thorough tests of Iron Dome components, and we’ve conducted an evaluation of our own. We are confident that Iron Dome will provide improved defense for the people of Israel. Helping to make Israel’s population more secure from the short-range rocket and missile threat its border towns face is not only the right thing to do, but it is the type of strategic step that is good for Israel’s security and for the United States’ interests in the region.

Bolstering Israel’s security against the rocket threat will not by itself facilitate a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Conversely, a two-state solution will not in and of itself bring an end to these threats. But our support for Iron Dome and similar efforts do provide Israel with the capabilities and the confidence that it needs to take the tough decisions ahead for a comprehensive peace.

U.S. support for Israel’s security is much more than a simple act of friendship. We are fully committed to Israel’s security because it enhances our own national security and because it helps Israel to take the steps necessary for peace. As Secretary Clinton has suggested, we cannot entrust Israel’s future to the status quo. And the most certain way to ensure Israel’s future as a democratic state is through a sustainable regional peace.

We will also continue to support our words with concrete actions. The U.S.-Israel security relationship is too important to be anything less than a top priority. As surely as the bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable, our commitment to Israel’s qualitative military edge has never been greater. And, I can assure you that under the leadership of President Obama and Secretary Clinton, our relationship will always receive the time, attention and focus that it deserves. BACK TO TOP