On Feb. 9, the United States Intelligence Community released its annual Worldwide Threat Assessment highlighting the emerging and rapidly evolving dangers America faces in the years to come. That same day, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that “Unpredictable instabilities have become the new normal…and this trend will continue for the foreseeable future.”
In America’s increasingly complex threat environment, its partnership with Israel—grounded in shared liberal values, democracy, stability and innovation—is a crucial component of both nations’ efforts to withstand the array of threats confronting them.
The Iranian Threat
Iran—the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism—stands as a key driver behind the chaos gripping the Middle East and the greatest regional threat to American and Israeli interests. According to the Worldwide Threat Assessment, “The Islamic Republic of Iran presents an enduring threat to U.S. national interests because of its support to regional terrorist and militant groups and the Assad regime, as well as its development of advanced military capabilities.”
Iran’s pursuit of regional hegemony has inflamed the area’s sectarian tensions, exacerbating conflicts and tearing at the fabric of several Middle Eastern nation-states. The dangerous result of its malignant efforts, including the destabilization of Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, has been the enhancement of the potency of virulently anti-American countervailing forces such as al-Qaida and the Islamic State (ISIS).
The Iranian threat will only continue to grow in the years ahead, as Tehran has gained access to over $100 billion in sanctions relief and opened its economy to foreign trade and investment and trade after reaching an agreement with the P5+1 on its nuclear program. It has already taken steps to escalate its support for terrorist proxies and to shore up its conventional military and ballistic missile capabilities. Iran has also adopted an increasingly aggressive posture against America’s naval presence in the Persian Gulf.
The Breakdown of the Regional Order
Iran’s pernicious foreign policy has contributed directly to the breakdown of the regional order and the risks posed by failed and failing states. The conflicts in Syria and Iraq have created safe havens for radical jihadist terrorist movements to flourish and given rise to the Islamic State, whose “estimated strength worldwide exceeds that of Al Qaida,” according to Director Clapper.
Foreign fighters, including many from Western states, have flowed to these battlegrounds by the thousands, posing a dangerous operational threat that will linger for years. The chaos in Syria also acutely threatens the Jewish state. What was once Israel’s most stable border now contains fighters from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Hezbollah, ISIS and al-Qaida. Whatever differences may exist among them, they all have expressed their long-term ambition to attack and destroy Israel and have attempted to win over the Arab population in Israel and the Palestinian territories with their jihadist ideology. ISIS released its first Hebrew language video in October 2015, which promised that “not a single Jew will remain alive in Jerusalem.”
The effective failure of Syria and ongoing instability in Iraq have reverberated throughout the region and beyond, inflaming sectarian tensions and spurring an unprecedented refugee crisis. These conditions have catalyzed spillover terrorist attacks and created tremendous strains on neighboring states, including Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Syrian refugees are also straining several European countries, and the extremism espoused by ISIS has inspired sensationalist terror attacks, including in in Paris and San Bernadino, California.
Israel’s Strategic Value
The upheaval of the regional order and empowerment of an array of anti-U.S. forces underscores the importance and centrality of the U.S.-Israel relationship. Unique among Middle Eastern nations, Israel’s stable democracy and reliable pro-U.S. orientation remain unquestioned and assured.
Israel’s military strength and central geostrategic location provide a strong deterrent to regional actors opposed to the United States. Long-standing U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation and intelligence-sharing allow the two allies to face common threats together, including terrorism and weapons proliferation. Israeli innovation in the defense and homeland security areas has helped protect American soldiers abroad and civilians at home. America derives great benefits from Israeli ingenuity and cooperation in emerging fields such as clean technology, cybersecurity, and missile defense.
The United States has long defined Israel’s survival and security as important to its national interests. Accordingly, America provides Israel with annual security assistance to help it defend itself, by itself, against mounting threats across the region. U.S. security assistance is vital to Israel’s efforts to maintain a qualitative military edge (QME) over its adversaries, which serves as the primary guarantor of Israel’s long-term survival.
Security assistance is currently provided at levels established by a 10-year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the allies. The current MOU expires in 2018, and discussions are underway to renew and expand the terms of the next agreement. America must continue to ensure that Israel has the resources to purchase the weapons and develop the systems needed to respond decisively to the unprecedented array of threats it faces. A flourishing strategic partnership with Israel serves to further U.S. interests, promote regional stability and enhance the security of both nations.
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