U.S./Israel Relations: The Year in Review

Israel is a vital factor in the United States government’s overall policy in the Middle East. Congress has placed considerable importance on the maintenance of a close and supportive relationship. The main expression of congressional support has been foreign aid. Since 1985, the US Congress has provided nearly $3 billion in grants annually to Israel.

In the past year, two pieces of legislation reflect the primary concerns of most American Jews today, regardless of their political affiliation or their agreement or disagreement with the current Israeli government. They are preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear capability and supporting  security aid for Israel.

In February, the House introduced the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act- House Resolution 850, which authorizes the president to impose sanctions on any entity that maintains significant commercial ties to Iran and expands sanctions for Iranian human rights violations. There was full bi-partisan support for this significant and important legislationand the House passed the bill on July 31, 2013 by a vote of 400 to 20.

By a resounding vote of 99-0, in May the Senate passed a resolution (S. Res. 65)declaring that: (1) prevention of an Iranian nuclear weapon remains American policy; (2) it is essential to step up enforcement of sanctions against Iran; and (3) the United States will stand by Israel should the Jewish state feel compelled to take military action in its own defense against Iran. The resolution was co-authored by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ).

The second piece of legislation is the request to urge members of Congress to support the US annual commitment of $3.1 billion in security assistance to Israel for fiscal year 2014. This is part of a 10-year agreement to provide Israel with the resources to defend itself from rising threats in the region including a potential nuclear Iran, Hamas rocket attacks from Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Again there is large bi-partisan support. The president has requested $220.3 million in additional funding for the Iron Dome missile defense system.

The United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013 (H.R. 938 and S. 462)designates Israel as a “Major Strategic Partner of the United States” and seeks to strengthen the partnership between the two countries to confront threats in the Middle East and expands their cooperation in defense, intelligence, energy, trade and more.

Despite ongoing budget woes, it is vital that the United States live up to its aid commitment to Israel. As our one reliable Middle East ally, Israel serves critical national security objectives. Any reduction in that aid would send the wrong message to Israel’s – and America’s – enemies.