Andrew Shapiro, the State Department’s go to guy on military cooperation, told the Brookings Institution last Friday that the defense assistance deal Israel worked out with the previous administration in 2007 — $30 billion over ten years — is untouchable, whatever happens to the economy.
Beyond that, he outlined how the United States guarantees Israel’s qualitative military edge:
–Security assistance (see above);
–Training and joint military exercises, for instance, the ballistic missile exercises this year, including 1,000 U.S. personnel;
–Selling Israel cool stuff — like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter — that’s restricted to just a few choice allies;
–Collaborative weapons development, which helps develop Israel’s native weapons manufacturing sector. (Shapiro notes the benefits the U.S. military derives from this aspect, including the “Israeli bandage – a specially designed antibiotic-treated dressing that has been used widely by our men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan." Who knew?)
The full speech is here, and Shapiro goes on to show where Obama outdoes his predecessors in making the relationship secure (added funds for Israel’s Iron Dome short range missile defense system, and more intensive and frequent person-to-person exchanges in intelligence and defense.)
In the Q and A (visible on the video below), Shapiro he allows a fifth area where the QME is preserved: the United States consults with Israel about what weapons it releases to Israel’s Arab neighbors. Shapiro made it clear that Israel has a voice, not a veto, in these areas, but it’s significant nonetheless that Israel (and groups like AIPAC) play a role in the process.
The Q and A was lively: Medea Benjamin of the Israel-hypercritical Code Pink actually had a good question (about whether Shapiro had been to Gaza and whether the United States tracks how Israel uses its weapons) and then blew whatever credibility she had by urging people to applaud her. (This was not her show.)
The Syrian ambassador, Imad Moustapha. wondered why the United States doesn’t outright say that Israel has nuclear weapons. I’ve interviewed the ambassador a number of times, and look forward to our next get-together when he outlines for me in detail Syria’s WMD programs.
The oddest part of the prepared speech, I found, was this passage — and remember, this was not an aside, it was a prepared remark:
Coming to my current job after eight years as Secretary Clinton’s primary foreign affairs and defense policy advisor in the Senate, I can personally attest to her deep sense of pride in being a strong voice for Israel. I travelled to Israel with then-Senator Clinton in 2005 (to attend a Saban Center conference) and joined her on her first visit to Israel as Secretary of State in March 2009.
When it comes to the U.S.-Israel relationship, the policy guidance Secretary Clinton has given me for my current position is no different from the guidance she gave me when I worked for her in the Senate.
I asked Shapiro’s spokesman why he thought it was necessary to say that Hillary Rodham Clinton loves Israel as much now as she did when she was the junior senator from New York. He insisted the remark was insignificant. (Nothing written into a State Department speech, especially one prepared for an official who doesn’t often speak publicly, is insignificant.)
A friend suggested to me that it was code: Congress is much likelier to hew the AIPAC line; Shapiro was suggesting that, despite the tensions over settlements of the last several months, the administration is also on that page.