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Israel - US Relations

Commitment to Israel's security and well being has been a cornerstone of U.S. policy in the Middle East since Israel's founding in 1948, in which the United States played a key supporting role. Israel and the United States are bound closely by historic and cultural ties as well as by mutual interests. Continuing U.S. economic and security assistance to Israel acknowledges these ties and signals U.S. commitment. The broad issues of Arab-Israeli peace have been a major focus in the U.S.-Israeli relationship. U.S. efforts to reach a Middle East peace settlement are based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and have been based on the premise that as Israel takes calculated risks for peace the United States will help minimize those risks.

For strategic security and diplomatic support, Israel has depended almost totally upon the United States. Since the establishment of the state in 1948, the United States has expressed its commitment to Israel's security and well-being and has devoted a considerable share of its world-wide economic and security assistance to Israel. Large-scale American military and economic assistance began during the October 1973 War, with a massive American airlift of vital military matriel to Israel at the height of the war. From 1948 through 1985, the United States provided Israel with US$10 billion in economic assistance and US$21 billion in military assistance, 60 percent of which was in the form of grants. From 1986 through 1988, total United States economic and military assistance to Israel averaged more than US$3 billion a year, making Israel the largest recipient of United States aid. Of the annual total, about US$1.8 billion was in Foreign Military Sales credits, and about US$1.2 billion was in economic assistance.

During the administration of President Ronald Reagan, the United States-Israeli relationship was significantly upgraded, with Israel becoming a strategic partner and de facto ally. A number of bilateral arrangements solidified this special relationship. In November 1983, the United States and Israel established a Joint Political-Military Group to coordinate military exercises and security planning between the two countries, as well as to position United States military equipment in Israel for use by American forces in the event of a crisis. In 1984 Israel and the United States concluded the United States-Israel Free Trade Area Agreement to provide tariff-free access to American and Israeli goods. In 1985 the two countries established a Joint Economic Development Group to help Israel solve its economic problems; in 1986 they created a Joint Security Assistance Group to discuss aid issues. Also in 1986, Israel began participating in research and development programs relating to the United States Strategic Defense Initiative. In January 1987, the United States designated Israel a major non-NATO ally, with status similar to that of Australia and Japan. Two months later, Israel agreed to the construction of a Voice of America relay transmitter on its soil to broadcast programs to the Soviet Union. In December 1987, Israel signed a memorandum of understanding allowing it to bid on United States defense contracts on the same basis as NATO countries. Finally, the two countries signed a memorandum of agreement in April 1988 formalizing existing arrangements for mutually beneficial United States-Israel technology transfers.

Israel has also cooperated with the United States on a number of clandestine operations. It acted as a secret channel for United States arms sales to Iran in 1985 and 1986, and during the same period it cooperated with the United States in Central America. The United States-Israeli relationship, however, has not been free of friction. The United States expressed indignation with Israel over an espionage operation involving Jonathan Jay Pollard, a United States Navy employee who was sentenced to life imprisonment for selling hundreds of vital intelligence documents to Israel. During the affair, Israeli government and diplomatic personnel in Washington served as Pollard's control officers. Nevertheless, United States government agencies continued to maintain a close relationship with Israel in sensitive areas such as military cooperation, intelligence sharing, and joint weapons research.

On a bilateral level, relations between the United States and Israel are continually strengthening in every field. In addition to the Joint Political-Military Group described above, there are: bilateral science and technology efforts (including the Binational Science Foundation and the Binational Agricultural Research and Development Foundation); the U.S.-Israeli Education Foundation, which sponsors educational and cultural programs; the Joint Economic Development Group, which maintains a high-level dialogue on economic issues; the Joint Counterterrorism Group, designed to enhance cooperation in fighting terrorism; and a high-level Strategic Dialogue.

The United States is Israel's largest single trading partner. In 2008, bilateral trade totaled $28 billion, an increase of almost 5% over 2007, even in light of the slowdown in global trade. The U.S. trade deficit with Israel was $11.9 billion in 2008, including diamonds. Excluding diamonds, the trade deficit was $4.5 billion in 2008. Israel is our 20th largest export market for goods. The principal goods exported from the U.S. include civilian aircraft parts, telecommunications equipment, semiconductors, civilian aircraft, electrical apparatus, and computer accessories. Israel's chief exports to the U.S. include diamonds, pharmaceutical preparations, telecommunications equipment, medicinal equipment, electrical apparatus, and cotton apparel. The two countries signed a free trade agreement (FTA) in 1985 that progressively eliminated tariffs on most goods traded between the two countries over the following 10 years. An agricultural trade accord signed in November 1996 addressed the remaining goods not covered in the FTA but has not entirely erased barriers to trade in the agricultural sector. Israel also has trade and cooperation agreements in place with the European Union, Canada, Mexico, and other countries.

Although Israel frequently is referred to as an ally of the United States, technically Israel may not fall under the definition of "ally" because there was no mutual defense agreement between the two countries. The Reagan Administration considered Israel a "strategic asset" because of Israel's opposition to the Soviet Union. Israel's Defense Minister Ariel Sharon and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on November 30, 1981, establishing a framework for continued consultation and cooperation to enhance the national security of both countries and confront the Soviet threat. On December 18, 1981, the State Department announced the "suspension" of the MOU in reaction to Israel's annexing the Syrian Golan Heights. In November 1983, Israel and the United States renewed the dialogue on bilateral strategic cooperation, and formed a joint political-military committee to implement most of the 1981 MOU provisions.

Prime Minister Shamir signed a 5-year agreement during his March 1988 visit to Washington, formalizing a number of Reagan era working arrangements in military, economic, political, and intelligence matters. The agreement designated Israel a "major non-NATO ally of the United States," which gives Israel preferential treatment in bidding for DOD contracts and lower prices on U.S. defense equipment.

The US decision to back an agreement among states signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty to sponsor a Middle East conference in 2012 aimed at ridding the region of nuclear weapons raised alarms among conservatives and mainstream pro-Israel groups. "What the U.S.'s vote in favor of the NPT review conference's final anti-Israel (and by default pro-Iranian) resolution makes clear is that under Obama, the U.S. is no longer Israel's reliable ally," wrote Caroline Glick, a conservative Jerusalem Post columnist.

Gen. David Petraeus, chief of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), warned lawmakers that "perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel ... foments anti- American sentiment" throughout the region and had an "enormous effect" on "the strategic context in which we operate". The beneficiaries, he said, include Iran, al Qaeda, and other radical Islamist groups.

It appears that Israelis want to maintain their status as strategic ally by creating an Islamic adversary to replace the Soviet nemesis of the past. Israel faces a unique set of security threats and national ambitions that sustain policies inconsistent with the Obama Administration's broader agenda of establishing a rule-bound international order that would eliminate double standards in US foreign policy. Israel has been gradually turning from a strategic asset to a burden for the United States, the head of Israel's intelligence service said. Mossad Chief Meir Dagan told members of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday 01 June 2009 that changes in U.S. foreign policy after the Cold War have left Israel with a decreased role as an ally in the Middle East, the Israeli daily, Jersualem Post, reported. "When there was a conflict between the blocs, Israel was an asset, and today it has declined," he said. U.S. foreign policy now prefers a "soft power" approach and an "unwillingness to use force to solve conflicts". On the eve of Obama's inauguration, the influential National Journal ran a symposium on the question: "Is Israel a Strategic Liability for the United States?" in which a surprising number of respected national security analysts answered in the affirmative.




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