Simultaneous with a critical meeting between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu the House of Representatives passed a bill last week that declares that Israel is a "major strategic partner" of the United States. The bill seeks to reinforce / reinvigorate a broad relationship between the two nations and lay the groundwork greater strategic cooperation. The major provisions of the bill include: • Expanding the delivery of forward-deployed US weapons to Israel, as well as other military technologies, • Committing Congress to further funding of the Iron Dome short-range missile defense system. • Inviting Israel into a visa waiver agreement with the US, which has been opposed by members of the intelligence community and the Democratic caucus for multiple years. The bill passed 410-1 in the House. The Senate is still considering a similar bill. A second part of the bill focuses on US-Israel energy relationships and seeks to strengthen collaboration between the two countries on energy project and calls for continued energy partnerships among government and academic institutions as well as the private sector from both sides. Some particular topics highlighted include identifying priorities for developing Israeli natural resources, discussing best practices to secure cyber energy infrastructure, leveraging natural gas to positively impact regional stability and improving energy efficiency. Last week’s discussion between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was drowned out by the news coverage of the Ukraine. It is reported that Prime Minister Netanyahu lectured the President on both the bad deal that the administration struck with Iran on its nuclear enrichment program and the need to understand the Israeli perspective on the peace negotiations with the Palestinians. While scolding the President reportedly Netanyahu had some nice things to say about Secretary of State Kerry and Vice President Biden. With the action by the Congress one must ask whether the bill mentioned above is intended to be a carrot to encourage a softer position on the negotiations with the Palestinians or a message to the White House. With only one Congressman voting against the bill could reach either conclusion. What is for sure is that the Democrats don’t want to alienate another group that usually supports them as they go into the mid-term elections.
March 9, 2014