Despite diplomatic tensions, U.S.-Israeli security ties strengthen

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By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 16, 2010

This week, Israel successfully conducted a test of a new mobile missile-defense system designed to shield Israeli towns from small rockets launched from the Gaza Strip. When the "Iron Dome" system is fully deployed in the next year, about half the cost -- $205 million -- will be borne by U.S. taxpayers under a plan advanced by the Obama administration and broadly supported in Congress.

While public attention has focused on the fierce diplomatic disputes between Israel and the United States over settlement expansion in Palestinian territories, security and military ties between the two nations have grown ever closer during the Obama administration.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who has worked decades in Washington, "believes we are cooperating on military-to-military relations in an unprecedented manner," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said.

Military relations were very close during the Bush administration, but "in many ways the cooperation has been extended and perhaps enhanced in different areas" during the Obama administration, a senior Israeli official acknowledged.

Elliott Abrams, a former senior Bush administration official and a frequent critic of the Obama administration's policy toward Israel, gives the White House high marks for its handling of the security relationship, saying it is "very smart" to insulate it from the diplomatic turmoil.

"It is the sounds of silence," he said. "I do not hear from Israeli officials and officers any griping, and that is in a context when there has been a lot of griping in the past year about everything else."

Long-term investment

U.S. officials portray the effort as a long-term investment designed to improve the prospects for peace and to make Israel feel less vulnerable to any threat posed by Iran.

"A secure Israel is better able to make the tough decisions that will need to be made to make peace," said Andrew J. Shapiro, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs.

High-level exchanges of senior military and defense officials take place almost weekly -- more than 75 at the deputy assistant secretary level or above in the past 15 months, according to a Pentagon accounting. That results in an exchange of military and intelligence expertise that U.S. officials say is unique in the world.

The U.S. efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan draw on lessons learned and equipment developed by the Israelis in their conflicts -- and visa versa. Unmanned drones and the armoring of vehicles to protect against roadside bombs derive from Israeli technology, Israeli officials say.

"We exchange information and discuss developments in the region, and under this administration our communication has taken on a more frequent and intimate nature," Shapiro said. "It is a mutually beneficial exchange."

Solidifying those links, more than 1,000 U.S. soldiers last year participated in a joint missile-defense exercise in Israel last year known as "Juniper Cobra," the first such exercise involving boots on the ground between the two nations.


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