WORTH EVERY NICKEL: Israel Is A Vital Security Asset For The United States

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Shoshana Bryen Contributor
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On a recent panel discussing support for Israel as a “bipartisan issue in Washington,” I stretched the boundaries a little and talked about Israel in Virginia. In the Pentagon, to be precise. One of the few points of unbounded bipartisan agreement on Capitol Hill is that US-Israel security cooperation is right, good, mutually beneficial and worth every nickel we spend on it.

Americans, including on the Hill, don’t always agree with Israel’s politics – or Israel’s defense choices – or any other single aspect of Israeli political, military and social life. But there is a reason military-to-military cooperation between the U.S. and Israel has remained almost untouchable — and that the American military proudly touts its relationship with Israel.

The centerpiece of the relationship are the elements of the “quick reference guide” to the capabilities Israel brings to U.S.-Israel security cooperation. (I first published the guide in 1979.) It details that Israel has:

  • A secure location in a crucial part of the world
  • A well-developed military infrastructure
  • The ability to maintain, service, and repair U.S.-origin equipment
  • An excellent deep-water port in Haifa
  • Modern air facilities
  • A position close to sea-lanes and ability to project power over long distances
  • A domestic air force larger than many in Western Europe and possessing more up-to-date hardware
  • Multilingual capabilities, including facility in English, Arabic, French, Farsi and the languages of the (former) Soviet Union
  • Combat familiarity with Soviet/Russian style tactics and equipment
  • The ability to assist U.S. naval fleets, including common equipment
  • The ability to support American operations and to provide emergency air cover
  • A democratic political system with a strong orientation to support the United States and the NATO system.

In 1996, research-and-development capabilities and intelligence cooperation were added. Post Sept. 11, counterterrorism training was added. After the 2003 allied invasion of Iraq, American military personnel were being introduced to Israel’s bomb-sniffing dogs. The U.S. wanted such dogs, but the training period is fairly long. The IDF was willing to make Israeli dogs available, but they only took commands in Hebrew. It was quicker to train the Marines than to retrain the dogs (making for some interesting scenes in Baghdad).

In 2006 police-to-police counterterror training in Israel made the list.

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In 2014, when the Obama administration was roundly criticizing Israel for allegedly not offering sufficient protection to Palestinian civilians in Gaza while Hamas was rocketing Israel, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey – America’s senior military officer – told an audience at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs:

“Israel… did some extraordinary things to try to limit civilian casualties, to include… making it known that they were going to destroy a particular structure. The IDF is not interested in creating civilian casualties. They’re interested in stopping the shooting of rockets and missiles out of the Gaza Strip and into Israel.”

Dempsey surprised his listeners by noting that he had already sent American teams to Israel to learn lessons from the IDF, “including,” he said, “the measures they took to prevent civilian casualties.”

As important as planning for combat is planning for the strengthening of democratic alliances. We cannot make democracies out of Iraq or Libya or Syria, but when democratic countries are united, working together and training together, the world becomes a safer place for all.

Israel has been a partner in US and multilateral military exercises for years — interestingly, most recently there was an exercise in which Israel and the United Arab Emirates flew together, signaling a public change in Israel’s relations with Gulf countries. In November, Israel hosted the largest aerial training exercise in its history — Blue Flag, in the Negev Desert. Seventy foreign aircraft from around the world, hundreds of pilots and air support team members were there, including teams from the United States, France, Italy, Greece, Poland, Germany, and India. It was the first time French, German and Indian contingents have trained in Israel.

As I wrote in 2006, “Israel and the United States are drawn together by common values and common threats to our well-being. The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction across the Middle East and Asia, and the ballistic missile technology to deliver systems across wide areas require cooperation in intelligence, technology and security policy. Terrorism and the origins and dissemination of violent Islamic radicalism also need to be addressed multi-laterally when possible.”

Israel and the United States are drawn together by common values and common threats to our well-being. The bipartisan support of our ally Israel is a testament to those values as well as to the practical recognition that the threats require cooperation in intelligence, technology and security policy.

The message was good in 1979, better in 2006, and better yet in 2017.

Shoshana Bryen is Senior Director of The Jewish Policy Center in Washington, DC.