U.S.-Israeli relations are being widely described as at an all-time low. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu knows by now that no matter what he does he’s a marked man for the Obama administration. Accepting the principle of a Palestinian state, instituting a ten-month settlement freeze, refraining from attacking Iran, and freeing dozens of convicted terrorists to accommodate Secretary of State John Kerry’s “peace process” have earned Netanyahu “red-hot anger,” name-calling, and derision from Washington.
And yet, in an apparent paradox, the U.S.-Israeli strategic relationship keeps going strong. The reason, in addition to the two countries’ traditional ties, is that Israel has so much to offer in the military, security, and intelligence spheres that cooler heads in Washington, particularly in defense circles, are not about to forgo it. Israel was recently rated as having the best air force in the world and strongest army in the Middle East. Its alliance with the U.S. is a “classic case of a two-way street.” In a 2011 article historian Arthur Herman discussed “How Israel’s Defense Industry Can Help Save America.”
Some recent developments, even amid the Obama administration’s anti-Israeli vendetta, well illustrate the reality.
1. Helping build the F-35.
The F-35, an aircraft produced by Lockheed Martin that is now in its last stage of development, is expected to become the dominant fighter jet in the world.
Israel already has 19 F-35s on order from the U.S., scheduled to start arriving in December 2016. Last month, while jeers and accusations were flying from Washington to Jerusalem, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon and U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel were quietly working out the terms for Israel to buy another 31 of the planes, and it appears to be close to a done deal.
Israel, though, will not just be one of the customers for the F-35 but a co-manufacturer.
DefenseNews reports on plans for the Israel Aerospace Industry (IAI) to produce up to 800 wing sets for the F-35 through 2030. Lockheed Martin official Patrick Dewar says it’s “because IAI builds the best product and we choose to take them with us.”
The Pentagon’s chief executive for the F-35 program, Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, “said the fighter will be a strategic asset for the US and Israeli air forces for years to come.”
This is definitely more pleasant music than the anti-Israeli tunes issuing lately from the White House and Foggy Bottom.
2. Helping protect U.S. military bases.
In Israel’s 2012 and 2014 wars against Hamas and other terror groups in Gaza, Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system won fame for its remarkable effectiveness in downing incoming rockets and keeping Israeli civilian casualties to a minimum. From about 85% in the 2012 conflict, Iron Dome’s success rate in intercepting projectiles went up even further to about 90% in last summer’s Gaza war.
In October Reuters reported that even though “in terms of operational achievement… Iron Dome is unrivalled in the arms market,” Israel was having a hard time selling it abroad because of “its uniqueness—developed for a particular threat in a particular place.”
This month, though, it’s reported that a major purchaser has been found: the United States.
Apparently the U.S. Army will acquire one Iron Dome battery, and based on tests it will conduct on the system decide whether or not to purchase more units of the Israeli defense system.
Having seen the system proven in war, the U.S. now apparently is considering deploying it to defend military establishments and U.S. soldiers around the world, as its short-range missile defense capability is not in great demand in America.
Again, behind the scenes, U.S.-Israeli defense cooperation keeps going full-steam even as the headlines paint a darker picture.
3. Helping fight ISIS.
In September the Israeli daily Haaretz cited a “Western diplomat” who said Israel
has provided satellite imagery and other intelligence in support of the U.S.-led aerial campaign against Islamic State in Iraq….
Once “scrubbed” of evidence of its Israeli origin, the information has often been shared by Washington with Arab and Turkish allies, the diplomat said….
The diplomat also informed the paper that
Israeli spy satellites, overflying Iraq at angles and frequencies unavailable from U.S. satellites, had provided images that allowed the Pentagon to “fill out its information and get better battle damage assessments” after strikes on Islamic State targets.
Israel had also shared information gleaned from international travel databases about Western citizens suspected of joining the insurgents, who could be potential recruits for future attacks in their native countries.
“The Israelis are very good with passenger data and with analyzing social media in Arabic to get a better idea of who these people are,” the diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
It should be noted that the campaign against ISIS is a complex issue for Israel, especially amid recent reports that the Obama administration is cooperating with Iran in this fight and looking to go easy on its nuclear program. Israel’s special prowess in the intelligence field, though, is no secret.
4. Helping with homeland security.
Not surprisingly, having to cope with a rough environment, Israel is also a world leader in homeland security. From November 9-12 in Tel Aviv, Israel will be holding its Third International Homeland Security Conference. At the conference will be U.S. police chiefs and security officials along with counterparts from all over the world.
Visiting Israel in 2012, former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice said it was particularly after the 9/11 attack that the U.S. turned to Israel for help:
We realized that Israel, our good friend, was very advanced in this area. Security has been a concern of Israel’s since the day it was born.
Since that time, Rice said, the U.S. and Israel have joined in “a common cause in the fight against people who would seek political gain by attacking civilians….”
Up for discussion at this year’s conference will be “four leading concerns of homeland security: cyber security, intelligence and counterterrorism, protection of critical infrastructures, and crisis management.” Concerns that, unfortunately, could not be more immediate as the Middle East-based plague of Islamic terror keeps spreading and intensifying.
And so, much as the Obama administration is obsessed with empowering the very terror-prone Palestinians at Israel’s expense, a more rational sense of the national interest, and of friends and enemies, guides the U.S. defense community. That U.S.-Israeli ties stay tight in the Obama era is a tribute to their strength.