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Congress Seeks to Expand Israel-US Defence Cooperation to Include Technology Sharing

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Israel is already the US’s closest ally in the Middle East, with Washington committing to provide Tel Aviv with $38 billion in military aid over ten years in 2016. Israel became a major US non-NATO ally in 1987, making it eligible to receive the latest US military hardware as it became available.

Bipartisan groups of lawmakers in both the House and Senate are working on legislation which would further expand US-Israeli defence cooperation to include a ‘US-Israel Operations-Technology Working Group’.

A bill on a ‘United States-Israel Military Capability Act of 2020’, introduced last month by Senate Armed Services Committee members Gary Peters of Michigan (Democrat) and Tom Cotton of Arkansas (Republican), seeks to increase cooperation between Washington and Tel Aviv on R&D and emergent technologies. The main idea behind the bill is that a joint US-Israeli ‘technology working group’ will be able to more quickly and systematically find gaps in cooperation and advance the production of new advanced weapons.

A House version of the bill was introduced on June 11, and also sponsored by both parties. That bill is now making its way through the House Armed Services Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee, and the Intelligence Committee.

In March, Peters and Cotton sent a letter to Pentagon Chief Mark Esper urging him to expand cooperation with Israel to include joint research and development to ensure that Tel Aviv continues to maintain a technological edge over any potential foe.

“Israel,” the lawmakers said, “represents America’s closest and most reliable ally in the Middle East,” and “exhibits an innovation agility and sense of urgency that can help catalyze US defence programs. Not only does Israel possess one of the world’s most effective militaries, it is also a technology superpower. Indeed, the Israeli defence innovation sector is a global leader in many of the technologies important to our warfighters.”

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If approved, the US-Israel Operations-Technology Working Group’ may be incorporated in the 2021 National Defence Authorization Act, which at the moment is already looking to secure $740.5 billion in funding for fiscal year 2021. At the moment, that bill already includes funding for the Missile Defence Agency’s cooperative programs with Israel as part of the 2016 arms aid pact.

Although relations between Israel and the US cooled at the end of President Barack Obama’s tenure, they shot to new highs under Donald Trump, who formally recognized Jerusalem as the country’s capital, recognized the occupied Syrian Golan Heights as Israeli territory, and voiced support for Tel Aviv’s move to annex large swathes of the West Bank. Additionally, Trump pulled the US out of the Iran nuclear deal after heavy lobbying from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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