Friday, September 19, 2014

Senate Passes US-Israel Strategic Partnership Bill

The Senate side of the United States Capitol building in Washington, DC (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons/File)

The United States senate voted unanimously to pass the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act late Thursday evening.The bipartisan legislation was authored by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) had 81 co-sponsors, out of a total of 100 Senators.

Much of this is cosmetic, what with the midterm elections looming closer, but there is some important meat here.

Aside from declaring that Israel is a “major strategic partner” of the United States, the bill increases the frequency and detail of US government reporting on Israel’s qualitative military edge and includes a provision that will expand the forward-deployed US weapons stockpiles in Israel.

One of the many things America gets out of its alliance with Israel is a weapons depot in a friendly country where arms and ammo can be held securely and safely to speed US resupply in the event of a crisis in the Middle East. That's a lot more valuable than it might first appear, especially when you look at the cost of a leased US base in the region, the restrictions placed on the use of our leased bases by our 'ally' Turkey and the benefits of having needed supplies to be used when we need them in a friendly nation.

The new bill allows an increase to the value of US weapons held in Israel by $200 million, for a total of of $1.8 billion. from Israel's standpoint, the good part of the deal is that the IDF, with U.S. permission, is allowed to access that stockpile in the event of an emergency, after which Israel reimburses the US for any weapons used. This summer, the stockpile — known as War Reserves Stock Allies-Israel (WRSA-I) — was accessed by Israel in Operation Protective Edge when the US let Israel use 40mm grenades and 120mm mortar rounds from the stockpile.

The bill also upgrades Israel’s trade status. And it authorizes the president to provide assistance to promote cooperation in water, homeland security, agriculture and alternative fuel technologies, pretty meaningless for the most part since Israel is self sufficient in water and food, its security apparatus is arguably better than ours and Israel is on the cutting edge when it comes to solar and biomass, but hey, a sop to the carbon footprint fanatics and it does no harm. Also it creates the establishment of a US-Israel Center of Excellence for the development of research and development and academic partnerships. There's also a provision for cooperation on cyber security.

The legislation also addresses a growing scandal, Israel’s high rate of visa rejections by the U.S.since the Obama Administration came to town.The bill encourages - it doesn't mandate - Israel's inclusion in the Visa Waiver Program, which currently allows three-dozen countries to have visa-free entry to the US.

Just guessing, but I have a feeling that a dangerous jihadi would be more likely to be a French citizen or a British subject than an Israeli. And perhaps Israel is bit more of a strategic ally to America than say, Chile or Brunei. So we'll see what happens.

Part of the problem here is Israel's disinclination to let certain violent BDS activists such as members of the International Solidarity Movement or American Arabs who identify themselves as Palestinians who hold U.S. citizenship and have a history of 'activism' into Israel. America certainly has no such problem with Israelis coming here. Again, we'll see how this works out.

The bill (of course!) has the usual language about US support for a negotiated political settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians resulting in two states living side-by-side in peace and security.

Say the last part of that sentence ten times quickly and commit it to memory and you too may qualify to be a U.S. Senator who's an 'expert' on the Middle East. Or at least for State Department spokesmouth.

Again, let me emphasize that this bill is largely about politics and the midterms.  The House has its own bi-partisan bill with similar attributes that has already passed in March 2014, but congress is set to adjourn soon and the two bills will not be able to be reconciled until after the November elections, after which President Obam has to sign it, which he may very well refuse to do.And there's no telling what kind of amendments a weasel like  Harry Reid might try to tack on as a lame duck Senate Majority Leader if the Republicans take the Senate.

So there's a lot of fluff here, but also some real meat. It might just be that some of Israel's persistent critics in the Senate are finally starting to realize how valuable our relationship with Israel really is.

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