By George S. Hishmeh –Washington, D.C.
It was a session replete with superlatives when the assistant secretary of state for political and military affairs, Andrew J. Shapiro, spelled out in unprecedented detail the Obama administration’s approach to U.S.-Israel security cooperation, reassuring the Israelis of “preserving (their country’s) qualitative military edge.”
The crowded event, held at the Brookings Saban Center founded by a wealthy Egyptian-Jew, seemed to serve as an obvious attempt by the administration to reassure Israelis that President Barack Obama, whose popularity in Israel is very low (about 10 percent), means well in his lethargic bid to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Shapiro, a onetime a senior research assistant at the pro-Israeli think-tank, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and for eight years a former foreign and defense adviser to Hillary Clinton before she was named secretary of state, reminded his audience of her “deep sense of pride in being a strong voice for Israel.”
At the packed session he faced some tough questioning but he was evasive in his responses. For example, he was asked why would Israel chose to make any concessions when it had all it needed from the U.S., or why Obama’s popularity remains very low despite these amazing favors that Shapiro often described as “unprecedented.” Another woman shot back at Shapiro saying he is sounding more like “an agent of the Israeli government than a U.S. representative” because this special relationship with Israel “is very dangerous,” a point that prompted surprisingly some cheering in the audience.
Among the highlights of Shapiro’s remarks were:
– – Despite these “challenging budgetary times,” the Obama administration has requested from Congress $2.775 billion in security assistance funding specifically for Israel, “the largest such request in U.S. history,” and promised that “this administration will continue to honor this 10-year, $30 billion commitment in future fiscal years.”
– – “Israel is a vital ally and a cornerstone of our regional security commitments (and) 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….”
– – U.S. bolstering of Israel’s security has included the sale of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, joint training exercises, research and development, and “the funding of the Iron Dome missile defense system developed (jointly with Israel) to answer the threat of medium-ranged rockets being fired by both Hamas and Hezbollah.”
– – “One of my primary responsibilities is to preserve Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge (QME) … through training and joint military exercises. More than 1,000 U.S. troops participated (recently) in JUNIPER COBRA (ballistic missile defense exercises), which was the largest U.S.-Israeli exercise in history.”
– – “A testament to our special security relations (is) that each year Israel accounts for just over 50 percent of U.S. security assistance funding distributed through the Foreign Military Financing program …. The total FMF account is $5 billion annually and is distributed among 70 countries.”
– – “Israel is the only country authorized to set aside one quarter of its FMF funding for off-shore procurements (and) this exception provides a significant boost for Israel’s domestic defense industry, helps them to develop indigenous production capacity…”
– – “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.”
– – “Israel-origin equipment deployed on Iraqi and Afghan battlefields are protecting American troops every day (and) we are also working closely … to enhance our shared security, from efforts to shut down the vast network of tunnels being used to rearm Hamas to tacking and combating terrorist financing to countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction …”
– – “We have been cultivating new ways to ensure Israel’s security and enhance our bilateral political-military relationship ….” President Obama has asked Congress to authorize $205 million to support “the production of an Israeli-developed short range rocket defense system called Iron Dome.”
Of course, Shapiro was only detailing what Obama had said earlier this month: “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.”
But what was sorely missing from all this one-sidedness is any discussion of whether this 50-year-old U.S. policy of maintaining “a strong and secure” Israel has brought the Middle East any closer to peace or served U.S. national and strategic interests. In the end, it may turn out that this American largesse will not be rewarded, certainly not without any arms-twisting in the next few months when and if direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians resume.
– George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.