Congress has passed a $576 billion Defense Appropriations bill for 2016 with a wide and bipartisan majority: 282-138, according to Defense News. The Obama administration takes issue with various parts of the bill, including presenting a six-page memo specifically calling for the elimination of Congress’s allocation of $635 million for Israel.
The money for Israel includes $268.7 million in R&D for U.S.-Israel cooperative missile defense programs; $72 million for the procurement of Iron Dome; $150 million for the procurement of David’s Sling; $120 million for procurement of Arrow III; and $42.7 million for U.S.-Israel anti-tunnel cooperation.
State Department spokesman John Kirby said the administration opposed the funding increase for Israel because it “would consume a growing share of a shrinking U.S. Missile Defense Agency’s budget… Additional support for Israel means fewer resources that are available for critical U.S. programs at a time when the missile threat from North Korea, in particular, is increasing.”
Here’s a thought for Adm. Kirby and the administration: Man up.
Fund U.S. missile defense programs – and the rest of the U.S. defense budget — at levels appropriate to the threat America faces without shortchanging an ally facing broad, increasing and unremitting threats.
How did we get here?
Thirty years ago, Israel was invited to join President Reagan’s missile defense program by LTG James Abrahamson, the first director of the Strategic Defense Initiative Office (SDIO). It was a serious philosophical leap for the IDF, which had until that time understood the only response to rockets and missiles to be offensive — hence escalatory. If Hizb’allah fired one at Israel; Israel fired two in return until the “international community” sought a ceasefire. Uzi Rubin, former director of the Israel Missile Defense Organization (IMDO), explained in inFOCUS Quarterly:
The IDF high command was generally skeptical about the strategic value of active defense, and doubted Israel’s defense industries’ ability to master the required technologies. This skepticism was mirrored by the media and elaborated on by civilian military analysts. Only shock and dismay from missiles and rockets hitting Israel’s undefended population centers in 1991 (the Gulf War) and 2006 (the Second Lebanon War), coupled with Iron Dome’s successful defense on the Gaza front brought a change of heart…
- U.S.-Israel collaboration – through the Arrow I and II and upcoming Arrow III programs and the Green Pine radar, David’s Sling, and Iron Dome — took Israel’s response to the burgeoning missile threats from Hizb’allah, Hamas, and Iran off the “hair trigger.” The Israeli government didn’t have to escalate at the first rocket, but could calculate its response and tell its public, ‘We can defend you, we are defending you, and we will continue to do so.” [In 2014, Iron Dome had a 90% success rate — 4,594 rockets and mortars were fired at Israeli targets, 735 were determined to threaten populated areas and all but 70 of those were intercepted.]
It was and remains a brilliant collaboration, from which the U.S. has benefitted. Even in 2013, at a moment of U.S.-Israel political tension, Vice President Biden used the AIPAC Policy Conference to promote U.S.-Israel security cooperation, emphasizing American support for Israel’s missile defense program as coin of the realm. Four points have been repeatedly emphasized by American administrations — Democrat and Republican:
- Israel makes excellent use of the money and accounts for it in a well-established manner — unlike, say, much larger appropriations for Pakistan or Afghanistan.
- The American defense establishment wants, needs and appreciates Israeli missile defense capabilities and innovation. Money spent in cooperation with Israel on missile defense greatly expands the reach of American R&D dollars.
- By law, nearly 75 percent of the money must be spent in the U.S. So the U.S. not only reaps the benefits of cutting edge Israeli R&D, but U.S. defense contractors benefit from their association with Israeli companies as well.
- Congress has mandated that Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge (QME) — its military advantage over conventionally armed adversaries – must be maintained, including through financing of necessary weapons.
Adm. Kirby’s complaint about the expense is part of a familiar dance during the Obama years. Beginning in 2009, the Obama administration shortchanged money for Israel’s missile defense programs. Congress would complain and put the money in, and the president would sign the bill with Israel’s money in it. Defense News noted in 2012:
- The Obama administration’s recently released budget request details a cut in funding to the “Israeli Cooperative,” as the jointly developed Arrow and David’s Sling programs are known, from $106.1 million in fiscal 2012 to $99.9 million in fiscal 2013. And since Congress more than doubled the administration’s request last year to $235.7 million, President Obama’s budget would more than halve the cooperative’s funding. Moreover, this marks the third consecutive year (emphasis added) that the administration has requested less funding and it will not be the last, according to its own budget projections.
And, indeed, the 2013 request (for 2014 spending) was $96 million, to which Congress added $174 million. The 2014 request (for 2015 spending) added $96.8 million for the “Israeli Cooperative.” At that point, The Jewish Policy Center noted, “Although the bipartisan effort in Congress keeps the money at a relatively even level, this is a terrible way for the Obama Administration to do business.”
Which is a second thought for the administration: missile defenses are, as the name implies, defensive measures. Absent an enemy with offensive plans and capabilities, the threat recedes. So if you get Hizb’allah, Hamas, and Iran — for starters — to forego their offensive missile programs and offer a peace with Israel that ensures that the Jewish State will be a legitimate, permanent part of the region, Israel’s missile defense appropriation would not need to be nearly as high. Make North Korea forego its missile program, Adm. Kirby, and you won’t have to worry about fewer resources being available for American programs either.
Short of that unlikely scenario, Israel — and the U.S. — will need cooperative missile defense programs for the foreseeable future. And Israel, it appears, will need Congress to ensure that the money is there.