The Obama Administration's Approach to U.S.-Israel Security Cooperation: Preserving Israel's Qualitative Military Edge
Assistant Secretary, Political-Military Affairs
Good morning. I am particularly pleased to be here at the Saban Center to address the Obama Administration’s enduring commitment to Israel’s security. And I am proud to say that as a result of this commitment, our security relationship with Israel is broader, deeper and more intense than ever before.
Just last week, President Obama met with Prime Minister Netanyahu and stated that “Israel has unique security requirements.” President Obama has ensured that his Administration fully recognizes those requirements, and we have redoubled our commitment to meeting them. Indeed, as Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs, one of my primary responsibilities is to preserve Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge, or QME.
Today, I’d like to tell you about how we’re preserving Israel’s QME through an unprecedented increase in U.S. security assistance, stepped up security consultations, support for Israel’s new Iron Dome defensive system, and other initiatives.
We recognize that today Israel is facing some of the toughest challenges in its history. This Administration is particularly focused on Israel’s security precisely because of the increasingly complex and severe threats that it faces in the region. Israel is a vital ally and a cornerstone of our regional security commitments.
When talking about the threat assessment in the region, one must start with the Iranian nuclear program. As Secretary Clinton said in March, “For Israel, there is no greater strategic threat than the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran.”
While the most grave, the Iranian nuclear program is one of many serious security threats in the region. Iran and Syria both pose significant conventional challenges. And these conventional challenges intersect with the asymmetrical threats posed by Hezbollah and Hamas, whose rockets indiscriminately target Israeli population centers, and whose extensive arms smuggling operations, many of which originate in Tehran and Damascus, weaken regional security and disrupt efforts to establish lasting peace between Israel and its neighbors.
We must recognize that the ever-evolving technology of war is making it harder to guarantee Israel’s security. For six decades, Israelis have guarded their borders vigilantly. But advances in rocket technology require new levels of U.S.-Israel cooperation. Despite efforts at containment, rockets with better guidance systems, greater range, and more destructive power are spreading across the region. Hezbollah has amassed tens of thousands of short- and medium-range rockets on Israel’s northern border. Hamas has a substantial number in Gaza. And even if some of these are still crude, they all pose a serious danger.
These and other threats to Israel’s security and civilian population are real, they are growing, and they must be addressed. And we are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our Israeli partners to do so.
Coming to my current job after eight years as Secretary Clinton’s primary foreign affairs and defense policy advisor in the Senate, I can personally attest to her deep sense of pride in being a strong voice for Israel. I travelled to Israel with then-Senator Clinton in 2005 (to attend a Saban Center conference) and joined her on her first visit to Israel as Secretary of State in March 2009.
When it comes to the U.S.-Israel relationship, the policy guidance Secretary Clinton has given me for my current position is no different from the guidance she gave me when I worked for her in the Senate. As the Secretary mentioned in a recent speech, the management of our security relationship with Israel and preserving Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge must be one of my top priorities.
The unique relationship between the United States and Israel is rooted in common values, interwoven cultures, and mutual interests. U.S. support for the idea of a Jewish homeland dates back to John Adams and John Quincy Adams, and can be traced through the letters of Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Roosevelt. Indeed, when Israel was founded in 1948, the United States was ready to embrace its new partner. President Truman famously extended official, diplomatic recognition to the State of Israel in just 11 minutes.
America’s commitment to Israel’s security and prosperity has extended over many decades and across Democratic and Republican Administrations alike. Our leaders have long understood that a robust United States-Israel security relationship is good for us, good for Israel and good for regional stability.
President Nixon paid the first official visit to Israel to begin direct U.S. diplomatic engagement to help bring peace to the region. This began a long, bipartisan effort to work toward peace and, in doing so, to further bolster Israel’s security as a sovereign state. President Nixon’s effort was continued by President Carter with the Camp David Accords, George H.W. Bush at the Madrid Conference, President Clinton’s stewardship of the Oslo Accords and the Wye River Conference – in which Brookings’ own Martin Indyk played such a central role – and the previous administration’s engagement at the Annapolis Conference.
President Obama has also made achieving peace and recognized secure borders for Israel a top Administration priority. Secretary Clinton, in her speech to AIPAC earlier this year, explained the imperative of pushing the peace process forward because the status quo is unacceptable. In addition to a nuclear-armed Iran, Israel’s future as a secure, Jewish, and democratic state is under threat from the dynamics of demography, ideology, and technology. The Obama Administration is working assiduously with the parties to restart direct negotiations toward a comprehensive peace as soon as possible.
We believe that through good faith negotiations, the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements.
Hand in hand with this commitment to peace has been the Administration’s unwavering dedication to ensuring that Israel is prepared to defend itself against the multitude of threats it faces. As the President said just last week, “the United States is committed to Israel's security. We are committed to that special bond, and we are going to do what's required to back that up, not just with words but with actions.”
Since day one, President Obama and Secretary Clinton have not only honored and re-energized America’s enduring commitment to Israel’s security, but have taken action to expand it to an unprecedented level. Our work is rooted in knowledge shared across the decades by presidents and policymakers on both sides of the aisle that a strong and secure Israel – and an Israel at peace with its neighbors – is critical not only to the interests of Israelis and Palestinians, but also to America’s strategic interests.
Peace and Security
As Secretary Clinton has often said, the status quo is unsustainable. Without a comprehensive regional peace, the Middle East will never unlock its full potential, and Israel will never be truly secure.
The dynamics of ideology, technology, and demography in the region mean that this continuing conflict poses serious challenges to Israel’s long-term security and its future as a Jewish and democratic state. This Administration believes that pursuing peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and Israel and its neighbors can be a mutually reinforcing process. Today, it is more essential than ever to make progress on all tracks.
Regional peace must begin with the recognition by every party that the United States will always stand behind Israel’s security. As President Obama put it, “no wedge will be driven between us.”
Israel’s right to exist, and to defend itself, is not negotiable. No lasting peace will be possible unless that fact is accepted. It is our hope that the Administration’s expanded commitment to Israel’s security will advance the process by helping the Israeli people seize this opportunity and take the tough decisions necessary for a comprehensive peace.
Maintaining Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge
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 – 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 by not only sustaining and building upon practices established by prior administrations, but also 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 them 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 2010 ballistic missile defense exercises. 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 counter-terrorism operations. These collaborative efforts enhance Israel’s military capabilities and improve our own military’s understanding of and relationship with the Israeli 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 life-long 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 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 early warning of incoming missiles.
Israeli-origin equipment deployed on Iraqi and Afghan battlefields are 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 IED’s. 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.
A prime example can be found in our joint effort to prevent and interdict the illicit trafficking of arms, ammunition and weapons components into Gaza. In 2009, the United States and Israel began intensive consultations to address this threat, a top agenda item whenever we meet for bilateral security talks. These efforts have since expanded into a wider international effort under the Gaza Counter Arms Smuggling Initiative – or GCASI. Under this multi-national partnership, the United States joins Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway and the UK – along with Israel and Egypt – to employ a broad range of diplomatic, military, intelligence and law enforcement tools to block the shipment of arms – including rockets, missiles and related components – into Gaza, safeguarding neighboring Israeli communities and promoting regional security.
A New Level of Security Cooperation
But what I really want to emphasize is that this Administration’s commitment to Israel’s security is more than just a continuation and strengthening of existing policies. Rather, we have been cultivating new ways to ensure Israel’s security and enhance our bilateral political-military relationship.
During the past year, there has been an unprecedented reinvigoration of bilateral defense consultations through nearly continuous high-level discussions and visits. We have re-energized structured dialogues such as the U.S.-Israel Joint Political-Military Group and the Defense Policy Advisory Group, among others. I lead the U.S. government’s discussions within the Joint Political-Military Group (JPMG), which includes representatives from both the State Department and Pentagon on the U.S. side and the Foreign and Defense Ministries on the Israeli side. The JPMG discussions cover a wide range of political-military topics, including first and foremost maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge. Meanwhile, the DoD-led Defense Policy Advisory Group provides a high-level forum dedicated to enhancing defense policy coordination.
This only reflects what we have been doing publicly with our Israeli partners. Just as important as this public cooperation and collaboration is what you don’t see. For instance, our regular and well-established meetings have recently been supplemented by an unprecedented number of intimate consultations at senior levels of our governments. These small, private sessions allow us to frankly discuss a wide range of current security concerns ranging from defense procurement to regional security. These consultations provide an opportunity for our governments to share perspectives on policies, address mutual concerns, explain threat perceptions, and identify new areas for cooperation. Our constant communication with the Government of Israel over the past year has helped us to more fully understand and appreciate the many unique security challenges that Israel must live with each and every day.
Let me now turn to another area where we are deepening our security relationship with Israel. The rocket threats from Hezbollah 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 travelled 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 their 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.
Thank you for your time and attention this morning. I look forward to your questions.