This afternoon, Assistant Secretary of State for Political and Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro delivered remarks on the U.S.-Israel security relationship to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Some excerpts from his comprehensive speech about actions taken by President Barack Obama to support Israel’s security appear below. The full version can be read here. Video can be viewed below or here.
Shapiro addressed the current state of U.S-Israel relations amid the changes taking place in the Middle East and made it clear that President Barack Obama is standing squarely with Israel:
I come before you at a time of dramatic change in the Middle East….As President Obama said: ‘the United States sees the historic changes sweeping the Middle East and North Africa as a moment of great challenge, but also a moment of opportunity for greater peace and security for the entire region, including the State of Israel.’...
For Israel, a country with security challenges that few countries in the world can contemplate, the volatility that we are witnessing in the region, is both a cause for optimism and concern. But in these changing times, there is one thing that Israel can always be certain of - and that’s America’s enduring commitment to its security. To be clear, in this time of dramatic change in the Middle East, the United States understands the challenges that these changes could pose to Israel’s security. Our policies and decisions will take this uncertainty into account. As Israel looks to the future, it should know that America will be there by its side….
I am proud to say that this administration has taken steps to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship and preserve it in a new century and era of dramatic change. As a result of the Obama Administration’s commitment, our security relationship with Israel is broader, deeper and more intense than ever before. Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that the security cooperation between our two countries is ‘unprecedented.’ In fact, I believe that no American administration has done as much as ours for Israel’s security.
Yet, with such significant change in the region, we must continue to forge an ever closer relationship. As Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs, one of my primary responsibilities is to preserve Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge, or QME. This is not just a top priority for me, it is a top priority for the Secretary and for the President….To ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge, we are closely analyzing the changes in the region and assessing the impact on Israel’s security….
[T]he changes that are impacting the region are prompting us to redouble our commitment to Israel’s security. This is why this Administration is not only sustaining and building upon practices established by prior administrations, but we are also undertaking new initiatives to make our security relationship more intimate than ever before.
He explained that Obama is following the historical pattern of presidential support for Israel:
It is widely known that our two countries share a special bond that is rooted in our common values and interwoven cultures. It famously took President Truman just 11 minutes to extend official, diplomatic recognition to the State of Israel when it was founded in 1948. Since then, the United States’ unwavering commitment to Israel’s security has been one of the fundamental tenets of America’s national security. This commitment has stretched back over 60 years - across Democratic and Republican administrations - and has been continued by the Obama administration. As President Obama said, ‘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.’
Shapiro broadly outlined the Obama Administration’s security assistance to Israel:
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. Despite these budget constrained times our commitment is unshakeable. For Fiscal Year 2012, the Administration requested more than $3 billion in security assistance funding specifically for Israel, the largest such request in U.S. history. These requests fulfill the Obama Administration’s commitment to implement the 2007 memorandum of understanding with Israel to provide $30 billion in security assistance over 10 years. Our funding 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….
[W]hat underpins all of these efforts to support Israel’s qualitative military edge, is the closeness of our bilateral political-military relationship. This Administration’s commitment to Israel’s security is not just about providing resources or just implementing existing policies. Rather, we have been cultivating new ways to ensure Israel’s security and enhance our relationship. During the Obama Administration, there has been an unprecedented reinvigoration of our bilateral defense consultations. And in the wake of the dramatic changes in the region, we are looking to expand these even further….
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. This is manifested in this Administration’s unwavering dedication to ensuring that Israel is prepared to defend itself against the multitude of threats it faces. 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 unparalleled level. And I can assure you that under the leadership of President Obama and Secretary Clinton, the bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable and our commitment to Israel’s qualitative military edge has never been greater.
He noted that the United States and Israel have a similar strategic outlook:
The United States and Israel also see eye to eye on host of strategic questions….Israel is a vital ally and serves as a cornerstone of our regional security commitments. From confronting Iranian aggression, to working together to combat transnational terrorist networks, to stopping nuclear proliferation and supporting democratic change and economic development in the region - it is clear that both our strategic outlook, as well as our national interests are strongly in sync.
Shapiro detailed the ever-expanding missile defense cooperation undertaken between the Obama Administration and Israel:
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. Rockets with better guidance systems, greater range, and more destructive power are spreading to actors that threaten Israel….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….
In this light, we are taking steps to help Israel better defend itself from the threat of rockets from Hezbollah and Hamas. 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. Recently, the rockets from Gaza were fired toward Ashdod and Ashkelon. 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, having visited the border with Gaza as well.
That is why last year, the President asked Congress to authorize $205 million to support the production of an Israeli-developed short range rocket defense system called Iron Dome. The funding for Iron Dome is above and beyond the $3 billion in Foreign Military Financing we provide. Iron Dome is part of a comprehensive layered defense against the threat of short range rockets fired at the Israeli population. Our funding enables Israel to expand and accelerate Iron Dome production and deployment and improve its multi-tiered defense against short-range rockets. This system is proving its worth. Having deployed several Iron Dome units to protect areas in southern Israel, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak noted that Iron Dome was showing ‘exceptional’ results.
As National Security Advisor Tom Donilon said in a speech to the Washington Institute just a few months ago: ‘We are proud to stand by this project. It is imperative that we do so, because there can be no peace without security.’ 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. Our support for Iron Dome and similar efforts help provide Israel with the capabilities and the confidence that it needs to take the tough decisions ahead for a comprehensive peace.
Additionally, we are working to better protect Israel from the threat of short and medium-range missiles. We are enhancing Israel’s Arrow Weapon System to counter long-range ballistic missile threats by co-developing the Arrow-3 interceptor. We are upgrading Israel’s Patriot Air and Missile Defense System, which was first deployed during the 1991 Gulf War. And we have also deployed an advanced radar system to provide Israel early warning of incoming missiles. Furthermore, David’s Sling, a system developed to defend against short-range ballistic missiles and cruise missiles, was developed jointly by Israeli and American companies.
He also explained other areas of cooperation between the United States and Israel:
Another way we help ensure Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge is through joint military exercises and training. Last fall we conducted the ballistic missile defense exercise: JUNIPER COBRA 2010. More than 1,000 U.S. troops participated in JUNIPER COBRA, making it the largest U.S.-Israeli military exercise in history. However, that accolade won’t last long. Because next year, we will combine the U.S. European Command’s premiere annual exercise, Austere Challenge, with the annual iteration of the Juniper Cobra exercise. This will involve more than 5,000 U.S and Israeli forces simulating the ballistic missile defense of Israel, making it by far the largest and the most significant exercise in U.S.-Israeli history.
A third way we support Israel’s defense needs is by ensuring Israel is equipped with highly advanced systems. Through both our government-to-government Foreign Military Sales program and Direct Commercial Sales, we are able to provide Israel with advanced products and systems that are restricted to only the closest of allies and partners. In the past few years, we have notified Congress of a number of significant sales, most notably the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The F-35’s advanced capabilities will prove a key contribution to upholding Israel’s military edge for many years to come….
We are also improving the process through which defense sales to Israel are notified to Congress. Israel will soon join some of our closest partners, including NATO members, Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand, as a country subject to an expedited Congressional Notification process….By including Israel in this small group we are better able to meet their defense needs and therefore ensure their security….
Through nearly continuous high-level discussions and visits, we have re-energized established dialogues such as the U.S.-Israel Joint Political-Military Group, or JPMG, and the Defense Policy Advisory Group, among others. I lead the U.S. government’s discussions within the JPMG, which includes representatives from both the State Department and the Pentagon on the U.S. side and the Foreign and Defense Ministries on the Israeli side.These discussions cover a wide range of political-military issues, but it is first and foremost focused on maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge. The DoD-led Defense Policy Advisory Group also provides a high-level forum that is dedicated to further enhancing defense policy coordination.
But these forums are just one piece of a larger set of dialogues. We are conducting an unprecedented number of intimate consultations at senior levels of our governments. These small, often informal, private sessions allow us to talk about a wide range of security issues, ranging from defense procurement to regional security. These consultations provide an opportunity for our governments to share perspectives on policies, explain how we perceive certain threats, address potential concerns, and find new areas for cooperation.
One example of our growing cooperation, can be found in our joint efforts to prevent and interdict the illicit trafficking of arms into Gaza. In 2009, the United States and Israel began intensive consultations to address this threat. It has become a top agenda item whenever we meet for bilateral security talks. And these efforts have since expanded into a wider international effort involving more than 10 countries and international organizations called the Gaza Counter Arms Smuggling Initiative - or GCASI. The eighth GCASI meeting will be held in Paris in December. And under this multi-national initiative, we are working to employ a broad range of diplomatic, military, intelligence and law enforcement tools to stop the shipment of arms, especially rockets and missiles into Gaza that threaten neighboring Israeli communities. The United States and Israel are also working closely in a number of other areas, such as combating terrorist financing and countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction through the Proliferation Security Initiative. This collaboration is only possible because of the strength of our bilateral political-military relationship
Shapiro emphasized diplomatic actions taken by the President and other Administration officials to defend Israel’s legitimacy:
Israel has also faced concerted diplomatic efforts to undercut its legitimacy and isolate it from the international community. As the President has said, Israel’s legitimacy is not a matter for debate. We have consistently opposed efforts to isolate Israel. We have stood up strongly for Israel and its right to defend itself after the Goldstone Report on the 2009 Gaza conflict was released. We have refused to attend events that endorse or commemorate the flawed 2001 World Conference Against Racism, which outrageously singled out Israel for criticism. This Administration has also made clear that a lasting and sustainable peace can only come though negotiations and remains firmly opposed to one-sided efforts to seek recognition of statehood outside the framework of negotiations, whether in the UN Security Council or other international forums.
He also spoke briefly about the Obama Administration’s efforts to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran:
The Iranian regime continues to be committed to upsetting peace and stability in the region and beyond. Iran’s nuclear program is a serious concern, particularly in light of Iran’s expansion of the program over the past several years in defiance of its international obligations. As Secretary Clinton said, ‘for Israel, there is no greater strategic threat than the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran.’ In response the Obama administration has rallied the international community and built an unprecedented coalition to impose the most far-reaching sanctions Iran has ever faced. Today, Iran finds itself increasingly isolated from the international community, making it ever harder for it to acquire materials for its nuclear and missile programs.
Shapiro concluded by speaking about the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians:
The last point I would like to make today is also one of the most important ways we work to support Israel’s security. And that is through our efforts to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians. As the President and the Secretary, as well as many in this room, have acknowledged time and again, the status quo is simply unsustainable. Neither Israel’s future as a Jewish, democratic state nor the legitimate aspirations of Palestinians can be secured without a negotiated two-state solution….
[T]he United States remains committed to the pursuit of an enduring peace between Israelis and Palestinians. In his May remarks, the President outlined a comprehensive vision for peace between the parties, including goals and principles for negotiations. In doing so, he laid a firm foundation for future negotiations. His vision carefully weighs and balances difficult tradeoffs that the parties will need to make, which we believe are necessary to reach our common goal: two states for two peoples - Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people, each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace. We continue to work towards this goal and remain committed to using every opportunity and every tool to make this a reality.
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