Rothman: U.S.-Israel Alliance in Better Shape Than Before

Posted June 27, 2010 at 3:52pm

Today, modern Israel faces some of the toughest challenges it has encountered in its 62-year history. Chief among them is Iran’s threat to the Jewish state’s very existence. But — especially in the past several months — there has been progress in defending against, deterring and preventing Iran from fulfilling that evil objective.

[IMGCAP(1)]On the continuing threat side, Iran-funded and directed Hezbollah and Hamas still have more than 50,000 rockets on Israel’s borders and continue to seek even more sophisticated weaponry to position against Israel, as evidenced by the recent transfer of Scud missiles to Hezbollah by Syria and Iran.

But the most terrifying and real threat to Israel is the possibility that Iran’s deranged President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will succeed in acquiring a nuclear weapon and use it to realize his long-stated objective of wiping Israel off the map.

All of this underscores the importance of what has now been achieved: the strongest military and intelligence alliance between the U.S. and Israel in recent history.

There is no question that the relationship between Washington and Jerusalem is not perfect — but when has it ever been? (See Ariel Sharon’s 2001 comment that “Israel will not be Czechoslovakia” and Ari Fleischer’s rebuke that President George W. Bush “believes that these remarks are unacceptable.”)

However, concerning military and intelligence cooperation — where the rubber meets the road, where issues speaking to Israel’s very existence hang in the balance — the U.S.-Israel relationship has never been stronger. I feel comfortable making this statement as a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense and the Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, which appropriate all spending for the U.S. military and all foreign aid, respectively. My position on these subcommittees affords me the opportunity to be in regular contact with the highest levels of all U.S. and Israeli diplomatic, military and intelligence agencies. The weekly and sometimes daily classified and unclassified briefings I receive inform my views about the true status of U.S.-Israel relations.

America’s boycott of Durban II, the 2009 United Nations conference against racism, and its dismissal of the U.N.’s Goldstone Report on the conflict in the Gaza Strip as “unbalanced, one-sided, and basically unacceptable,” along with our support of an Israeli-run investigation of the recent Gaza flotilla incident have helped shield Israel on the international stage. And over the past 18 months, America’s own improved international standing has helped secure a broad international consensus to confront Israel’s, the Middle East’s and the world’s greatest threat: Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Israel’s qualitative military edge, which eroded under previous U.S. administrations, has been restored and improved, with more help on the way. The Obama administration’s outreach to Russia has resulted in an agreement that Russia will not deliver its S-300 anti-aircraft system to Iran, a game-changer in Iran’s balance of power with Israel.

Also, months of aggressive U.S.-led negotiations in the U.N. have yielded a new sanctions regime against Iran that will allow for even greater sanctions against Iran’s financial, military and energy sectors from the Europeans, the United States and other nations.

There is more. Last month, President Barack Obama allocated an additional $205 million to permit Israel to position additional short-range Iron Dome anti-missile batteries throughout the Jewish state. This is on top of the more than $3 billion in military aid that Israel will already receive from the U.S. this year, plus more than $200 million in additional money for the U.S.-Israel joint missile defense systems, including the long-range Arrow systems and the medium-range David’s Sling. In allocating these additional funds, President Obama is building on my efforts to enhance U.S. support and cooperation for Israel’s missile defense system against Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran.

Not only that, but there is an unprecedented high level of U.S.-Israel military and intelligence cooperation. A powerful demonstration of the strength of the U.S.-Israel relationship was demonstrated in October of 2009, with Operation Juniper Cobra, in Herzliya, Israel. At that time 1,400 U.S. servicemen and servicewomen were sent to Israel with 10 U.S. warships, bringing the highest U.S. military and intelligence command officers with them to coordinate with their Israeli counterparts to conduct live-fire testing of practically every missile defense capability in the U.S. and Israeli arsenal.

The Obama administration and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have declared that a nuclear-capable Iran is unacceptable and that they will work to prevent it. In fact, last Wednesday, Uzi Arad, Prime Minster Netanyahu’s national security adviser, acknowledged that “the United States is determined to prevent Iran from becoming nuclear. There is determination there. There is activism.” Both countries also hold that a policy of containment is not an option.

In that regard, there have been recent public reports that Saudi Arabia will let Israel overfly a portion of its territory, should Israel feel it necessary to undertake military action against Iran. This follows in the footsteps of Egypt, which has allowed Israeli submarines and missile ships, as well as U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups, through the Suez Canal into the Red Sea. These vessels have the capability of launching cruise missiles armed with both nuclear and non-nuclear warheads. And several months ago, the U.S. delivered advanced anti-missile batteries to four Persian Gulf states, operated by American crews.

Ahmadinejad should now clearly understand that Israel’s new relationships with the U.S., Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni nations in the region, and Israel’s more effective and comprehensive missile defenses will make it difficult, if not impossible, to exercise his sick and deranged calculus whereby Iran would be willing to trade the lives of a million Iranians for even a few thousand Israelis. If he acts and takes that gamble without effect, he will pay a terrible one-sided price.

While it would thus require a suicidal Iranian leader to consider attacking Israel, unfortunately, President Ahmadinejad may be such a leader.

And so, clearly, there still remains a long way to go before the Jewish state’s security is assured. We therefore must continue our vigilance in keeping Israel’s security at the forefront of U.S. foreign policy. But genuine progress has occurred in recent months. It is important not to be overlooked, ignored or underestimated.

Rep. Steven Rothman (D-N.J.) serves on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense and the Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations.