by Shoshana Bryen
May 16, 2016
The week of Israel's 68th anniversary, NATO invited Israel – and three other countries – to "establish diplomatic missions to NATO headquarters." This is not NATO membership, something to which Israel does not aspire, but recognition that Israel has something to offer the Atlantic Alliance. Prime Minister Netanyahu said, "The countries of the world want to cooperate with us because of our determined struggle against terrorism, because of our technological knowledge, our intelligence deployment and other reasons."
It may have something to do with the revelation that Israel had warned Brussels of lax airport security before the terror attack at Zavantem Airport in March. Or the discovery that Israel had offered France a tracking system for terror suspects after the Charlie Hebdo/kosher supermarket attacks and nearly a year before the September bombings that killed 130 people in Paris. France had declined. An Israeli source said, "French authorities liked it, but (an official) came back and said there was a higher-level instruction not to buy Israeli technology... the discussion just stopped."
It may have something to do with NATO member Turkey's increasingly perilous position in the Middle East. Facing increased Kurdish restiveness, spillover from the Syrian war, ISIS imposed genocide, and increasingly strained relations with Russia over Syria and Ngorno-Karabakh, restoring security cooperation with Israel might be a lifeline for Ankara. This would account for Turkey dropping its opposition to Israel's NATO mission.
Or maybe NATO is reverting to its previous view of Israel as a security partner and moving closer to the traditional American position, regardless of the increasingly shrill tenor of European politics (we're not the only ones). There is history here.
In 1979, I worked on what was called a "quick reference guide" to the capabilities Israel brought to U.S.-Israel security cooperation. Israel has:
- A secure location in a crucial part of the world
- A well-developed military infrastructure
- The ability to maintain, service, and repair U.S.-origin equipment
- An excellent deep-water port in Haifa
- Modern air facilities
- A position close to sea-lanes and ability to project power over long distances
- A domestic air force larger than many in Western Europe and possessing more up-to-date hardware
- Multilingual capabilities, including facility in English, Arabic, French, Farsi, and the languages of the (former) Soviet Union
- Combat familiarity with Soviet/Russian style tactics and equipment
- The ability to assist U.S. naval fleets, including common equipment
- The ability to support American operations and to provide emergency air cover
- A democratic political system with a strong orientation to support the United States and the NATO system.
NATO formally bought the idea, and in 1989 Israel was designated a "Major Non-NATO Ally." The status allowed for joint R&D, purchase of certain weapon systems off-limits to others, joint training, the ability to bid on certain contracts, and various other benefits. More countries were added over time, essentially degrading the category from "supportive allies not in NATO" to "countries seeking NATO support." After Pakistan (2004) and Afghanistan joined the list (2014), the U.S. Congress created an additional category for Israel – Major Strategic Partner – to ensure that Israel would stay a step ahead.
And as the Europeans shifted this week, so did the U.S. Reversing its previous opposition, the U.S. announced that Israel would be permitted to modify the F-35 fighter jets that will be delivered beginning in December. According to Wired magazine, Israel will install software described as "an app-like 'command and control' system' and Israeli-made weaponry." Wired went on to note:
Israel is quite adept at building advanced military technologies, from weapons systems to sensors to communications gear, and sells a lot of it to the U.S. Israel's Litening precision targeting system -- an external pod that uses infrared imaging and laser range-finding to guide bombs to targets—is used in a variety of U.S. Air Force and Navy aircraft. The sophisticated Joint Helmet-Mounted Display system for F-22 fighter pilots leans heavily on Israeli technology.
The idea that investments in Israeli defense and defense industries will pay dividends in the United States and to our NATO allies also underpins the Congressional budget debate over security assistance to Israel. It isn't a debate between Republicans and Democrats, but rather a mechanism by which the Obama administration deliberately short-changes Israel's missile defense programs – possibly out of antipathy for missile defenses in general – and a bipartisan majority in Congress restores the money. Senator Lindsay Graham called it "a game they (the Administration) play. We're far more realistic about Israel's defense needs than they are. And they know we're going to meet them."
This year, the appropriation will include $62 million for the Iron Dome system and $150 million and $120 million, respectively, for the David's Sling and Arrow 3 systems, for a total of $332 million -- more than double the administration's request.
And it should be noted that regardless of the administration's views on missile defense or Israeli politics, it has never vetoed the Congressional appropriation.
It should be noted, too, that the "quick reference guide" of Israeli capabilities that can benefit NATO and individual allied countries has undergone revision over time. In 1996, R&D capabilities and intelligence cooperation were added. Post 9/11, urban counterterror training was added. More recently, ballistic missile defense and tunnel detection capabilities have been added.
Nothing has been ever been deleted.