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US-Israel Military Ties Strengthen

Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew J. Shapiro (undated photo)
Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew J. Shapiro (undated photo)

While much public attention has been focused on diplomatic disputes between Israel and the United States during the past 18 months, Obama administration officials say military and security ties between the two countries are stronger than ever.

Earlier this month the Israeli military said it successfully tested a system that can shoot down incoming rockets. Called "Iron Dome," the system is designed to protect Israeli communities from rockets fired from Lebanon and Gaza.

The Obama administration is asking Congress to approve $205 million to support Iron Dome in the latest example of the strengthening military cooperation between the U.S. and Israel.

Andrew Shapiro is assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs.

"Hezbollah has amassed tens of thousands of short and medium-range rockets on Israel's northern border," said Andrew Shapiro. "Hamas has a substantial number in Gaza. And even if these are still crude, they all pose a serious danger."

The Iron Dome system will help neutralize the threat from Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The two Islamic militant groups have bombarded Israel with incoming rockets in the past, exposing a strategic vulnerability.

The United States is also providing Israel with hundreds of millions of dollars for longer-range missile-defense programs known as Arrow and David's Sling, that would defend against weapons such as Iran's Shahab ballistic missile.

U.S. President Barack Obama:

"We strongly believe that given its size, its history, the region that it is in, and the threats that are leveled against us - against it, that Israel has unique security requirements," said President Obama.

Last year, more than 1,000 U.S. soldiers participated with Israeli troops in the largest joint-training mission between the two countries.

This year, Congress fully funded the administration's $2.7-billion security assistance request for Israel, the biggest ever. Mr. Obama has requested $3 billion for next year.

The administration is clearly hoping the military assistance will support the U.S.-led peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

Again, Assistant Secretary of State For Political-Military Affairs Shapiro:

"Our support for Iron Dome and similar efforts do provide Israel with the capabilities and the competence that it needs to take the tough decisions ahead for a comprehensive peace," he said.

Some Middle East analysts say the administration may hope the assistance will boost prospects for peace, but it is not clear if that is the thinking of the Israeli government and military establishment.The Israeli government sees Iran and its nuclear program as its biggest threat in the region.

The United Nations, the United States, and other countries recently approved new sanctions against Tehran, aimed at halting its suspected nuclear-weapons program. Iran says the program is for peaceful purposes.

Brookings Institution Foreign Policy Director Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, says success in the peace process does hurt Iran's efforts to spread its power in the Middle East.

"Precisely because Iran uses the Arab-Israeli conflict to expand its influence in the region, pressure on Iran can indeed be enhanced by a comprehensive effort to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict," said Martin Indyk.

Since President Obama took office, he and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have had significant policy differences.

The bond was severely strained when Israel announced the expansion of Jewish settlements in mostly Arab East Jerusalem during a visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden earlier this year .

Another U.S.-Israeli meeting was postponed when a raid by Israeli commandos on an aid flotilla to Gaza led to the deaths of nine pro-Palestinian activists.

The disagreements have not derailed indirect peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

U.S. special envoy George Mitchell has continued his shuttle diplomacy between the parties in an effort to restart direct negotiations.

In early July the two leaders met again and there appeared to be a significant improvement in relations.

Again, President Obama:

"The bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable," said Mr. Obama.

That bond appears strongest in the administration's efforts to strengthen military and security ties.

Again, Assistant Secretary of State For Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro:

"This administration is particularly focused on Israel's security, precisely because of the increasingly complex and severe threats that it faces in the region," said Shapiro. "Israel is a vital ally and a cornerstone of our regional security commitments."

Shapiro says that relationship will grow as the administration is committed to the yearly funding of a 10-year, $30-billion package of arms sales and security assistance to Israel.