week, U.S. and Israeli senior defense officials conducted a series of bilateral meetings aimed at bolstering military cooperation. On April 24, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman traveled to the United States to meet with U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis and newly-appointed National Security Advisor John Bolton. Their meetings focused on Iran, Syria and U.S.-Israel cooperation in the Middle East. On April 23, U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Votel arrived in Israel to meet with senior Israeli officials regarding Syria and Iran. During his visit, the commander of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Central Command (CENTOM) met with Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, and other senior Israeli defense officials. As the leader of CENTCOM, Gen. Votel oversees U.S. military operations across the Middle East. Votel has
previously criticized Iran’s behavior. “It is my view that Iran poses the greatest long-term threat to stability in this part of the world,” he said in recent testimony to Congress.
On April 11, Reps. Peter Roskam (R-IL) and Grace Meng (D-NY) led 40 U.S. representatives in calling for FY 2019 funding of U.S.-Israel missile defense programs. The bipartisan letter also called on the U.S. military to examine the purchase of Iron Dome short-range rocket interception systems from Israel. The letter was signed by 21 Republicans and 21 Democrats. Specifically, the letter requested “at least $500 million, the amount requested in the President’s FY 2019 Missile Defense Administration budget, for U.S.-Israel missile defense programs.”
April 15, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) announced that it had detected and destroyed the “longest and deepest” Hamas terror tunnel to date. An IDF spokesman said the tunnel was part of a “kilometers-long” network of other passages under the Gaza Strip. He added that it was the fifth terror tunnel discovered by the IDF in recent months. Since the 2014 Gaza War, Hamas has attempted to use its tunnel infrastructure to penetrate Israeli territory and target civilian populations. The United States and Israel are working together to develop new technologies and techniques to locate, map and destroy these tunnels. To date, Congress has appropriated more than $80 million to specifically address this challenge.
April 12, it was reported that Israel will participate for the first time in the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) multinational naval exercise, headed by the U.S. Navy’s 3rd Fleet. The biennial exercise is the largest maritime exercise in the world. The Israel Defense Forces confirmed participation by stating: “As part of the efforts to maintain its competence and develop its capabilities, the [Israeli] Navy takes part in international exercises regularly. In the coming weeks, Israel's naval arm is expected to participate in the RIMPAC exercise, one of the largest exercises in the field of naval warfare.”
March 29, a defense source told the Jerusalem Post that Israel is once again considering the purchase of Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey helicopters. The hybrid aircraft has primarily been used by the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. Israel was originally interested in acquiring the aircraft in 2012, but the acquisition process fell through after pushback from the Israeli Ministry of Defense. However, during a joint U.S.-Israel exercise early this March, Israeli defense officials reassessed the aircraft and expressed a renewed interest in purchasing it. In the coming months, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) is also expected to decide whether it will purchase a third squadron of F-35 jets or the latest Boeing F-15Is.