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Unanimous Senate Vote Designates Israel “Major Strategic Partner,” Expanding Areas of Cooperation

The Senate late Thursday unanimously passed bipartisan legislation establishing Israel as a “major strategic partner” of the United States, putting into motion expanded cooperation across areas as diverse as security, energy, and trade. The bill had been authored by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo) and had gained 81 co-sponsors before it went to the floor. The House had already passed parallel legislation in March, and the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC called on Congress “to move quickly to reconcile the two versions of the legislation and send it to the President for his signature.”

Broad aspects of the bill will see Israel’s trade status upgraded and new mechanisms created to facilitate technological cooperation in corporate and academic contexts. The Times of Israel specifically focused on the security dimensions of the legislation:

Under the new legislation, the US can increase by $200 million the value of US weapons held in Israel — bringing the total value of US weapons stored in Israel to a total of $1.8 billion. The forward-based weapons stockpiles in Israel have doubled in their value in the past two years, and are meant to speed up US resupply in the event of a crisis in the Middle East. The weapons in the stockpile can also be used by Israel in the event of an emergency, with Israel reimbursing the US for any weapons used.

The Israelis had tapped into some of those stockpiles  their recent wars with Hamas.

The Times of Israel also picked out provisions of the bill requiring the president to “study the feasibility of expanding US-Israel cooperation on cyber security.” A recently leaked top-secret memo detailed previously unknown dimensions of US-Israeli intelligence cooperation, revealing that Washington and Jerusalem coordinate on cyber issues to an unprecedented degree:

According to the document, which describes significant, joint intelligence successes such as those involving the Iranian nuclear program, “NSA maintains a far-reaching technical and analytic relationship with the Israeli SIGINT National Unit [i.e., Unit 2800], sharing information on access, intercept, targeting, language, analysis and reporting. This SIGINT relationship has increasingly been the catalyst for a broader intelligence relationship between the United States and Israel.

There are also provisions in the legislation to broaden energy cooperation, just a few weeks after the Houston Chronicle reported on broad efforts being made to establish links between Israel and Texas-based energy companies on issues ranging from regulatory advice to resource co-production.

The vote itself came less than a month after a bipartisan Congressional delegation visited Israel to among other things push back against swirling reports of strain between Washington and Jerusalem. American support for Israel and sympathy for Israel remain near all time highs, and Congressional legislation expressing Washington’s backing for the Jewish state routinely cruises through the Senate without dissent. Scholar and journalist Walter Russell Mead, the James Clarke Chace Professor of Foreign Affairs and Humanities at Bard College, has described public American support for Israel as “one of the most potent political forces in U.S. foreign policy.”

[Photo: Senate Democrats / Flickr]