The U.S.-Israel relationship has made important advances in the three years since Congress passed landmark legislation to foster bilateral cooperation. The 2014 U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act (SPA) affirmed in law that Israel is a “major strategic partner” of the United States, and authorized expanded U.S.-Israel cooperation in a wide range of fields, including defense, intelligence, homeland security, cybersecurity, energy, water, agriculture and alternative fuel technologies.
America and Israel are both strengthened by confronting these challenges together. Here are highlights of how Congress, the Obama administration and the Trump administration have invested in achieving SPA’s objectives, specifically in the areas of energy, water, homeland security and cybersecurity.
Israel’s focus on energy efficiency has resulted in the development of leading technologies. Simultaneously, Israel discovered significant natural gas reserves off its coast in the Mediterranean Sea—the largest of which is the Leviathan field, with an estimated 500 billion cubic meters of gas. Recognizing that Israel could help the United States in relation to energy efficiency, and that America could strengthen Israel’s energy security by lending expertise in the area of natural gas, Congress within SPA authorized the creation of a U.S.-Israel Center of Excellence in Energy and Water Technology.
The new center will bring together the best minds in both countries for the development of new energy and water technologies. Following passage of SPA, the U.S. Department of Energy and Israel’s Ministry of Energy, as well as the private sectors from both countries, began organizing the creation of the center, and in 2017, House and Senate committees appropriated money for the center for the first time: $4 million for fiscal year 2018 that will be matched annually by Israel and the private sectors of the two countries.
Underscoring America’s interest in Israel’s renewable-energy technologies, Congress has appropriated $2 million each year for the U.S.-Israel Binational Industrial Research and Development Energy program (BIRD-Energy). BIRD-Energy is a bilateral cooperative program whereby U.S and Israeli companies may apply jointly for grants to cover up to 50 percent of their project development and commercialization costs. The October 2017 BIRD-Energy awards included projects that would develop new processes of ethanol production; a safe hydrogen transport and storage system; and a new energy-efficient, low-maintenance, high-performance bicycle.
Dozens of U.S. states are currently experiencing abnormally dry conditions and water shortfalls. California is the primary example, but ominous conditions have been prevalent throughout the interior West and in Texas. In addition, cash-strapped cities on the East Coast and in the Midwest are grappling with rapidly deteriorating water infrastructure.
Israel, on the other hand, effectively became “water secure” in 2014. This remarkable feat was achieved by a country with historical water scarcity problems, whose basic water needs have been consistently imperiled by hostile neighbors and an arid climate. Israel reached this status through the development of desalination, drip irrigation, wastewater treatment and advanced pipe technologies that identify leaks and contamination in aging pipes.
Each of these Israeli technologies is more advanced and used more widely in Israel than in the United States; for example, while America recycles approximately 1 percent of its wastewater, Israel recycles more than 90 percent, enabling its agricultural sector to prosper even in the event of a drought.
As for desalination—a process by which salt or gray water is made potable—in 2015, an Israeli company began operating a desalination plant in California, the largest such plant in the Western Hemisphere. The Carlsbad Desalination Plant provides nearly 50 million gallons per day of fresh water from the Pacific Ocean to the residents of San Diego County. Israel already has five such plants and is constantly modernizing its plan for future plants, which will be more cost-effective and energy-efficient.
In 2016, Congress passed the Water Infrastructure Improvement for the Nation Act (WIIN). This important legislation incentivized grantees of federal desalination programs to partner with Israeli companies and institutions; established a government mechanism for U.S.-Israel cooperation in desalination research and development (R&D); and authorized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to cooperate with Israel and other key allies.
Taken together, these provisions represent a positive trend: The U.S. government’s approach to water technologies includes greater collaboration with Israel. As a result, U.S.-Israel cooperation is accelerating the joint research, development and commercialization of water technologies.
By necessity, Israel has gained broad experience in homeland security. Constantly under threat, the Jewish state has developed leading techniques and technologies for preventing and addressing mass-casualty incidents, particularly in relation to airport perimeter security, and identifying threatening objects before they enter the airport itself. According to a 2016 CNN report, Israel’s Ben Gurion airport is considered by many experts to be the world’s safest—it has not suffered a shooting or terrorist attack since 1972.
It is no surprise, therefore, that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Congress have proactively sought to increase cooperation with Israel following the passage of SPA. In 2015, DHS embarked on a pilot program with Israel’s Ministry of Public Security, whereby the two countries provide grants to collaborative U.S.-Israeli projects to develop wearable and first-responder technologies. Recent awards from this program were for the development of public safety off-network broadband communications and unmanned search-and-rescue systems. And on the basis of the pilot’s early successes, in 2016 Congress passed the U.S.-Israel Advanced Research Partnership Act, H.R. 5877, which permanently authorized the pilot program and expanded it to include cybersecurity.
As a uniquely global and borderless challenge, cyber threats to the U.S. digital economy and critical infrastructure require partnership between America and its close allies. Israel has emerged as a crucial partner. In addition to being a close and trusted ally, Israel in 2015 alone attracted 20 percent of global private-sector investment in the cybersecurity industry.
As noted above, H.R. 5877, which was signed into law in 2016, promotes cooperative homeland security research and antiterrorism programs relating to cybersecurity. And Congress is already working on further legislation to establish an additional U.S.-Israel grant program supporting R&D in cybersecurity. The latter bill, the U.S.-Israel Cybersecurity Cooperation Enhancement Act, passed the House in 2017; the Senate Homeland Security Committee is currently reviewing it.
The Executive Branch is also accelerating cyber cooperation with Israel. In February 2017, President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the formation of a joint working group focused on bilateral cybersecurity cooperation. Led by Rob Joyce from the U.S. National Security Council and Dr. Eviatar Matania from the Israeli National Cyber Directorate, the delegations aim to expand the scope and depth of current government cooperation.
In the three years since the passage of SPA, the U.S. government has broadened the U.S.-Israel relationship. The United States is now devoting new resources to protecting Israel’s security, while simultaneously developing new pathways to advance its own security through this bilateral partnership. SPA has spurred a cultural and institutional change in Washington, as the Departments of Energy, Interior, Homeland Security, Agriculture, Transportation, and Commerce, as well as NASA, are each developing their own unique cultures of cooperation with Israel. The pace of change is fast, and 2018 will likely bring a deepening of existing ties as well as new cooperative programs in space, agriculture, autonomous vehicles and digital health.
Greater American familiarity with Israeli capabilities will also yield new opportunities beyond the bilateral relationship. Notably, improved understanding of Israel’s new water technologies enabled the Trump administration in 2017 to broker new water agreements between the Israelis and Palestinians that will provide them with important additional water resources. In addition, Israel is already engaged with USAID’s 15 agriculture Centers of Excellence in India. Also, in December 2017, Israel officially joined the U.S.-led “Power Africa” initiative to connect 60 million African households to electricity by 2030. Further broadening of the U.S.-Israel relationship will serve to strengthen both countries and the world.
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