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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

AIPAC CEO Howard Kohr's Testimony to House Appropriations Subcommittee on Security Assist. to Israel

On March 25, AIPAC CEO Howard Kohr submitted the following written testimony for the record to the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs to make the case for robust annual security assistance to Israel.  *** For decades, Israel’s survival and security has been a top U.S. national security priority. Today, Israel faces an unprecedented array of threats stemming from the growing instability gripping the Middle East. These challenges require Israel to spend significantly more on its defense. In this context, AIPAC strongly urges the Subcommittee to approve the president’s request of $3.1 billion in security assistance for the Jewish state in fiscal year 2017 in accordance with the 2007 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between the United States and Israel. The approval of this assistance should include the legislatively mandated terms under which it has historically been provided, particularly provisions mandating the level of assistance, offshore procurement and early disbursal. As the current MOU expires after FY2018, discussions between the two allies are underway to renew and expand the terms of the next agreement. U.S. security assistance is the most tangible manifestation of American support for Israel, especially during a time of tremendous turmoil in the Middle East. By providing security assistance to Israel, the United States safeguards the Jewish state’s qualitative military edge (QME) over its adversaries and ensures the safety and security of both nations. In addition, we support a robust and bipartisan foreign aid program that ensures America’s strong leadership position in the world. A Region in Turmoil On Israel’s doorstep, the Middle East continues to face unprecedented chaos. Along the Jewish state’s northern border, terrorist groups including Hezbollah, the Islamic State, and Jabhat al-Nusra are gaining strength; in the south, Hamas remains in firm control of Gaza and terrorists roam the Sinai Peninsula; and to the east, Iran has received more than $100 billion in sanctions relief that will further fuel its support for terrorism and insurgency. According to the State Department, Iran remains the leading state sponsor of terrorism – financing, arming, and training terrorist groups in the Middle East and around the world.  In July 2015, Iran and the P5+1 finalized the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a nuclear accord that – if fully implemented – will limit Tehran’s nuclear program for 10-15 years in exchange for sanctions relief. Since the nuclear deal was concluded, Iran has significantly stepped up its destabilizing activities, including providing more material and logistical support to Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad, more money and arms to Hezbollah, more support for its allies in Iraq, Gaza, Lebanon, Yemen and Bahrain, and more ballistic missile tests in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. Meanwhile, Israel faces a Palestinian wave of terror. Since Oct. 2015, scores of terrorist attacks have killed at least 30 Israelis and wounded over 300. The recent surge in violence and incitement has further pushed back the prospects for peace. Additionally, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has continued to bypass direct negotiations with Israel to pursue one-sided initiatives at the U.N. Security Council and International Criminal Court. 

In the Gaza Strip, Hamas—a designated terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union—poses both an immediate and a longer-term threat to Israeli citizens. The group is constructing an enormous infrastructure with which to attack Israeli communities, including a broad network of terror tunnels paid for in part with funds diverted from international humanitarian assistance. At the same time, six million Israelis are now within range of an estimated 10,000 Hamas rockets.  On the Jewish state’s northeast border, Syria’s enduring conflict continues to pose severe challenges to Israel’s security. Rebel militias and radical jihadi groups affiliated with the Islamic State, al-Qaida and Jabhat al Nusra have replaced the Syrian army near Israel’s border. While these groups are now preoccupied with fighting each other, Israeli security planners are concerned that they will ultimately turn south to attack Israel. And Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have made no secret of the fact that they seek to directly threaten Israel. Also situated along Israel's northern border, Hezbollah dominates the Lebanese government and has amassed 150,000 rockets and missiles, more sophisticated and accurate than ever before, with some able to hit targets anywhere in Israel. Designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United States since 1995, Hezbollah has killed more Americans than any terrorist group other than al-Qaida. These represent only some of the many threats gripping the region. They illustrate one simple truth: the Jewish state, as America's one stable ally in an increasingly tumultuous region, faces unprecedented strategic threats on all its fronts. Israel: A Vital Strategic Partner As a key pillar of America’s Middle East security framework, the U.S.-Israel strategic partnership plays an indispensable role in combating common threats and furthering America’s regional and global policy objectives. These threats include terrorism, conventional and non- conventional weapons proliferation, counterfeiting, cyber warfare, and the spread of radical Islamist ideology. In this context, Israel’s military strength and central geo-strategic location provide a strong deterrent to regional actors opposed to the United States. Indeed, Israel’s stable, democratic and reliably pro-U.S. orientation remains unquestioned and ensures that America can consistently rely on its alliance with the Jewish state. Put differently, the historic U.S.-Israel alliance is among the only stabilizing features of a very unstable and unpredictable region. The close strategic relationship between the United States and Israel originated with the two allies sharing key intelligence around the time of the 1967 Six-Day War. This partnership was later broadened and formalized in the early 1980s, when President Ronald Reagan and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir announced the establishment of the Joint Political Military Group to coordinate planning, exercises, and prepositioning against threats faced by both nations in the Middle East. Later in the decade, the United States designated Israel as a major non-NATO ally. Israel is now also a Major Strategic Partner of the United States after enactment of the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014.   Over the last 30 years, the U.S.-Israel relationship has benefitted both countries through joint military training programs and joint research and development. Facing common threats, the U.S. and Israel can optimize the response to these threats by working closely together. Twice each year, U.S. Marines conduct desert warfare training with their Israel Defense Forces (IDF) counterparts, and American soldiers and security officials have visited Israel to study Israel's approach to urban combat. U.S. pilots hold mock dogfights with the Israeli Air Force and have tested aerial combat tactics and practiced refueling. In addition, Israel and the United States have cooperated on a wide range of intelligence-sharing programs, including monitoring Iran, Syria, al-Qaida and other terrorist groups.  An additional centerpiece of the interaction between the two militaries has been combined missile defense training, including the biannual Juniper Cobra exercise. In this maneuver, U.S. and Israeli forces practice cooperative tactics to counter the growing threat from ballistic missiles and long-range rockets. In 2012, this drill was combined with Austere Challenge, the largest joint bilateral military exercise ever conducted between the two forces. In Nov. 2013, the United States, Italy and Greece joined Israel for the Juniper Stallion exercise – the largest military air exercise in Israel’s history. Just this year, 1,700 Americans from all U.S. services and 2,000 Israeli personnel were engaged in this year’s Juniper Cobra exercise.  U.S. Assistance Helps Maintain Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge  U.S. support for Israel through annual security aid has helped the Jewish state maintain its Qualitative Military Edge (QME), which Congress has defined in legislation as Israel’s “ability to counter and defeat any credible conventional military threat from any individual state or possible coalition of states or from non-state actors.” This military superiority has prevented war by deterring Arab states from considering attacks on Israel. Because of America's support for Israel's QME, prospective aggressors know they would face a U.S.-backed ally armed with the world’s most advanced weapon systems. U.S. security assistance has encouraged Israel's neighbors to come to the negotiating table, thus playing a key role in securing Israel’s peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt. Today, both the United States and Israel share a commitment to advancing a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Cooperation Produces Critical New Military and Defense Technologies With America’s help, Israel is about to launch one of the most advanced multi-tiered missile defense systems in the world.  Iron Dome: Since 2005, terrorists in Gaza have fired more than 10,000 rockets indiscriminately into Israel, prompting the Jewish state to develop the Iron Dome rocket defense system. This defensive platform has proved its ability to intercept incoming Katyusha-style rockets in mid-air, saving lives and avoiding broader conflict. Recognizing its value, America has already provided $1.1 billion to help Israel develop and purchase the system.  David’s Sling: On March 1, the United States and Israel began delivering major components of the jointly-produced David’s Sling missile defense system to the Israeli Air Force. Developed by U.S. defense company Raytheon and Israel's Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd., David’s Sling can intercept short- to medium-range rockets and ballistic missiles, including guided projectiles, cruise missiles, aircraft, and drones. The system passed its final series of tests in Dec. 2015 and will be fully operational in early 2016. Arrow 2 and 3: The Arrow program is the centerpiece of the U.S.-Israeli cooperative defense relationship. Jointly developed by the two allies, Arrow-2 is among the world's most sophisticated missile shields. Operational since 2000, Arrow-2 has consistently proven that one missile can shoot down another at high altitudes and supersonic speeds. Arrow-3, an upper-tier, exo-atmospheric defense system, is designed to counter long-range conventional and unconventional strategic threats to Israel. It is currently in development and is expected to be operational in 2016. During the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian terror group utilized underground tunnels to attack Israel’s civilian population. Currently, Hamas is rebuilding and expanding its tunnel infrastructure in Gaza, and Hezbollah may be preparing to replicate this approach on Israel’s border with Lebanon. Israel, with U.S. help, is developing a response to this tunnel threat. Israeli success in this endeavor would quickly translate into assistance to our own efforts to thwart similar threats on the Korean Peninsula, the United States-Mexico border and in various locations in the Middle East Saving American Lives on the Battlefield Israel has also developed dramatic new technologies that have played a key role in saving U.S. lives during military conflicts. To cite just a few of the more important innovations: F-35 Helmet: An Israeli defense contractor partnered with an American firm to produce the Helmet Mounted Display System (HMDS) for F-35 fighter pilots. The helmet displays flight and weapons data for the pilot, providing full situational awareness and the ability to rotate the missiles’ seeker by turning one’s head.  Litening Pod: The Israeli-developed Litening Pod for strike aircraft identifies targets with laser precision from high altitudes, placing the pilot in less danger while reducing collateral damage on the ground.  Distance Door-Breaching System: U.S. forces must often apprehend enemy combatants and terrorists who are holed up in urban safe houses. Breaching the doors of these houses can be a deadly proposition when troops come face to face with armed insurgents. The Israeli SIMON door-breaching system can blast down steel or wooden doors from a distance of up to 130 feet.  Advanced Detection of Explosives: Remote-controlled explosive devices have caused thousands of U.S. casualties in recent years. The U.S. military uses various Israeli technologies that can detect remote-controlled explosive devices and other weapons.  Emergency Bandage: Carried in every U.S. soldier's first-aid kit, this Israeli-designed bandage stems blood loss, prevents infection and allows non-medically trained soldiers to stabilize wounded. This bandage was instrumental in saving the life of former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and several others in the aftermath of a 2011 shooting in Tucson, Arizona. Increased Israeli Defense Spending Spiraling defense costs are forcing Israel to spend more on defense as a percentage of GDP than any other nation in the industrialized world. Israel officially allocates 5.6 percent of its GDP to defense. However, the actual costs to the Israeli economy are much higher, taking into account lost productivity and the need for reserve duty, internal security and anti-terrorism spending. Even as the Jewish state faces its own substantial budgetary pressures, during the next decade Israel may have to spend $160 billion on defense. This is a significant increase over the previous 10-year period. Israel’s spending coincides with accelerated military investment fueled by the oil revenues of Israel’s Arab and Iranian neighbors. Saudi Arabia’s military budget doubled over the last decade, while Iran’s rate of military spending has grown at a similar pace despite economic pressures. This is reflected in the major purchases and development of new arms that may put Israel at risk. Other Arab nations have also made large-scale purchases of weapons and military technology. Iran continues funding Hezbollah’s military expansion. The military hardware – including American-built advanced fighter aircraft, vertical-takeoff aircraft, naval vessels and armored troop carriers – that Israel must acquire over the next decade to maintain its QME is far more sophisticated, complex and expensive than previous Israeli purchases from the United States. A Robust Foreign Aid Budget Is Critical to U.S. National Security AIPAC strongly believes that the broader U.S. foreign aid budget, which includes security assistance to Israel—nearly 75 percent of which comes right back to the United States through the purchase of U.S.-made aircraft and other equipment—is an essential component of America’s national security strategy. In today’s globalized economy, U.S. foreign aid also helps American companies develop foreign markets, build stable business environments in developing countries, and thereby help create jobs at home. Foreign aid programs also help bring education, health care and transportation to hundreds of millions of potential new customers. Today, one in five American jobs is linked to U.S. exports. Foreign markets offer the best opportunities to expand the American economy. At little more than one percent of the federal budget, foreign aid is a cost-effective and relatively small investment that saves U.S. taxpayers money. Using foreign aid dollars wisely today helps prevent the more costly wars and crises that might otherwise occur. Prevention – whether of terror attacks, weapons proliferation, pandemic disease, economic meltdown, societal collapse or the spread of radical ideology – is always cheaper and easier. Conclusion Few can predict what the coming year will bring in the Middle East, but one thing remains certain: The United States is strong when Israel is strong. This Subcommittee – headed so ably by Chairwoman Granger and Ranking Member Lowey – deserves great credit for its stalwart advocacy for the U.S.-Israel relationship and the foreign aid budget over the years. This support will remain even more critical as America and Israel continue to work together to advance the goals of a peaceful, stable and pro-Western Middle East.

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