An expanded security aid package would allow Israel to reach tough decisions in its peace talks with the Palestinians, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Andrew J. Shapiro said Friday, adding that Washington planned to provide Israel with its most extensive security aid package in history.
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Speaking at the Brookings Saban Center for Middle East Policy in Washington D.C., the assistant secretary spoke of the administration's intention to enhance the annual security aid it provides Israel, saying that in "2010, the administration requested [from Congress] $2.775 billion in security assistance funding specifically for Israel, the largest such request in U.S. history."
Shapiro linked the expanded aid package with the possibility of furthering peace talks with the Palestinian Authority, saying that it was the "hope that the administrations expanded commitment to Israels security will advance the process by helping the Israeli people seize this opportunity and take the tough decisions necessary for a comprehensive peace."
"This Administration believes that pursuing peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and Israel and its neighbors can be a mutually reinforcing process," the assistant secretary said, adding that it was "more essential than ever to make progress on all tracks."
Shapiro reiterated what he called the U.S. commitment to Israel's security, saying that "Israels right to exist, and to defend itself, is not questionable. No lasting peace will be possible unless that fact is accepted."
"Israel is a vital ally and a cornerstone of our regional security commitments," Shapiro added, saying that "U.S. support for Israels security is much more than a simple act of friendship."
"We are fully committed to Israels security because it enhances our own national security and because it helps Israel to take the steps necessary for peace," the assistant secretary said.
Referring to the security threats which brought the administration to expand its aid package, Shapiro said, "Today Israel is facing some of the toughest challenges in its history," adding that the administration was "particularly focused on Israels security precisely because of the increasingly complex and severe threats that it faces in the region."
"While the most grave, the Iranian nuclear program is one of many serious security threats in the region," Shapiro said at the Saban Center, saying that "Iran and Syria both pose significant conventional challenges."
Intersecting with the threats posed by those countries, the assistant secretary said, were "the asymmetrical threats posed by Hezbollah and Hamas, whose rockets indiscriminately target Israeli population centers, and whose extensive arms smuggling operations, many of which originate in Tehran and Damascus, weaken regional security and disrupt efforts to establish lasting peace between Israel and its neighbors."
Shapiro also detailed the ways in which the United States planned to bolster Israel's security, which included the sale of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, joint training exercises, research and development, and the funding of the Iron Dome missile defense system, developed to answer the threat of short to medium ranged rockets being fired by both Hamas and Hezbollah.
"Iron Dome," Shapiro said, "fills a gap in Israels multi-tiered defense system. Israel has conducted thorough tests of Iron Dome components and weve conducted an evaluation of our own. We are confident that Iron Dome will provide improved defense for the people of Israel."
A Washington Post report published prior to Shapiro's address that a high-level exchanges of military and defense officials took place almost every week.
The report cited a Pentagon source as saying that more than 75 at the deputy assistant secretary level or above in the past 15 months.
The Washington Post also cited Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies as saying that an agreement signed toward the end of the Bush administration meant that almost a quarter of Israel's actual defense expenditures came from the United States.
Again referring to the possible effect such military support could have on future peace talks with the PA, Shapiro said that "bolstering Israels security against the rocket threat will not by itself facilitate a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
"Conversely, a two-state solution will not in and of itself bring an end to these threats. But our support for Iron Dome and similar efforts do provide Israel with the capabilities and the confidence that it needs to take the tough decisions ahead for a comprehensive peace," Shapiro added.