I attended this morning’s talk by Dennis Ross to ADL’s leadership conference. (I moderated a subsequent panel.)
He repeated the Obama administration mantra about security cooperation with Israel being closer than ever — something I’ve heard not just from the White House, but from Israelis and from Republicans. The difference is that Israelis and Republicans are quick to add that while security cooperation is unprecedentedly close, diplomatic relations have been fraught (a point Elliott Abrams made during the panel I moderated).
What was interesting in Ross’ speech was that he said that while defense cooperation was always close, it was in previous administrations "stylized." More recently, he said, it had achieved "depth."
He also quoted from Robert Gates’ remarks a couple of weeks ago in Tel Aviv, when Gates met with Ehud Barak, his Israeli counterpart:
We discussed a range of important defense issues both in our bilateral relationship and across the region, including the dramatic political shifts taking place in the Middle East and the implications those changes hold for the future; Iran’s nuclear program; the security environment on Israel’s borders, including southern Lebanon and the Palestinian territories; and the ongoing military operation over Libya.
Our bilateral relationship and this dialogue is so critical because, as Minister Barak once said, Israel lives at the focal point of some of the biggest security challenges facing the free world: violent extremism, the proliferation of nuclear technologies, and the dilemmas posed by adversarial and failed states. And I think it important, especially at a time of such dramatic change in the region, to reaffirm once more America’s unshakable commitment to Israel’s security.
Indeed, I cannot recall a time during my public life when our two countries have had a closer defense relationship. The U.S. and Israel are cooperating closely in areas such as missile defense technology, the Joint Strike Fighter, and in training exercises such as Juniper Stallion — cooperation and support that ensures that Israel will continue to maintain its qualitative military edge.
None of this is new, but the emphasis on closeness by Gates and Ross is, well, more emphatic than it has been. See what I rendered bold in Gates’ statement, above, and what did Ross mean by the relationship under Bush and his predecessors having been "stylized"? Limited to for-show strategic dialogue meetings? Exchanges of information and intelligence and goodwill, and not much else?
What, more pertinently, was the new "depth?"
This may be a clue: Defense News (subscription required) today is reporting the following:
In an unprecedented expansion of security cooperation, U.S. and Israeli specialists are planning a massive exercise aimed not only at improving coordinated defenses against rocket, missile and air attack, but at enabling the two countries to function in wartime as a joint task force (JTF).
That would be extraordinary, indeed, for Israel’s military, which has made something of a cult of preserving its operational independence.
UPDATE: I just got Ross’ prepared remarks — and the passages I noted above are not in them. Which is even more interesting — it means he introduced it last minute.
I have a recording of the speech — I’ll get the exact passage posted by tomorrow.
UPDATE II: Here it is. I’ve marked where he begins ad-libbing away from his prepared remarks:
Israelis particularly during a time of change and uncertainty must see that their security will be addressed in a meaningful way and in a way that doesn’t leave them vulnerable to the uncertainties and changes that are taking place in the region.
Palestinians need to see that they can have an independent state that is contiguous and viable, and clearly, the more tangible signs that the occupations is receding, the more they will be believe that is a possibility.
Now in this time of uncertainty and change, if there is one thing that isn’t uncertain it’s the relationship between the United States and Israel.
And think about it — at a time of such upheaval and change, knowing we have a friend that we can count on is something that is critical to the United States.
With Israel we have a relationship that is enduring because it is bound together by a set of shared values and a set of shared interests.
The one thing that I can say without any qualification is that for the Obama administration commitment to Israel’s security is something that it is unshakeable and it is iron clad.
The fact is those are not just words. We are not just approaching that from a standpoint of it being a slogan.
We are approaching it from a standpoint of giving it on a daily basis life and meaning.
Many of you may have heard when Secretary Gates was in Israel a little over a week ago, he said something I want to quote. If you haven’t heard it, now you’re going to hear it. This is Secretary Gates, someone who has a span of about 40 years of being in government, he actually exceeds even my span, which is not easy to do. He said, and I’m quoting:
“I cannot recall a time during my public life when our two countries have had a closer defense relationship. The United States and Israel are cooperating closely in areas such as missile defense technology, the Joint Strike Fighter, and in training exercises such as Juniper Stallion — cooperation and support that ensures that Israel will continue to maintain its qualitative military edge.”
Our cooperation is contributing to Israel’s security as I said on a daily basis signified most recently by Israel’s deployment of the iron dome short-range rocket defense system, which we helped to fund by providing an additional $200 million this year.
(Begins ad-libbing): I said Secretary Gates has served longer than I, but not by a long time, not by much more time.
I was one of those people who was one of the originals drafters of something that was known as strategic cooperation with Israel, and I can tell you that was cooperation that was designed again to reflect shared values and shared interests.
The institutions that grew out of that over time became sort of real but the exchanges they produced were highly stylized.
What has changed in this administration has been an in depth ongoing, frequent, continuous set of discussions across the whole range of national security issues and concerns, and I can in a sense reflect also what Secretary Gates was saying: In all the time that I’ve served, in all the different administrations I’ve been in, I have never seen the kind of strategic cooperation that exists today between the United States and Israel, and that’s a fact.
Here’s the video — the passage is between 31 and 36 minute markers: