In an apparent attempt to signal to Israel and Iran that the United States means business with regards to Israel's security, a top U.S. military officer said on Friday that the United States and Israel are expected to hold a delayed, joint military exercise sometime around October or November, after postponing it earlier this year.
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In addition to the military exercise, the U.S. Senate voted for a bill affirming U.S. commitment to Israel as well as calling for an array of further actions to be taken to this end, some of which could be seen as direct support for an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear program in case the diplomatic negotiations currently taking place fail to get Iran to cooperate with the west.
Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he wasn't sure what the final decision was on timing after high-level talks in Israel this week.
"We rescheduled it for October-November time frame," Dempsey said. "I really don't know what the final decision was, but it is our expectation that that's when the event will occur."
The air-defense drill, named "Austere Challenge 12," was scheduled for the spring and had been expected to be the largest exercise between the two allies, who regularly hold joint military maneuvers.
Following the vote on similar bill in the U.S. House of Representatives in early May, the U.S. Senate passed the United States-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act of 2012 (S. 2165). The bill, introduced by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA), with total of 69 co-sponsors, lists several possibilities for strengthen the strategic cooperation between Israel and the U.S..
The act mentions a "rapid change" in the Middle East that will lead not only to hope but also a "great challenges to the national security of the U.S." and its regional allies, especially Israel, that is "facing a fundamentally altered strategic environment."
The act charts the existing U.S. policies designed to meet these challenges; reaffirming the "unwavering commitment to the security of the State of Israel as a Jewish State" and the commitment to help Israel preserve its qualitative military edge, to veto anti-Israeli resolutions at the UN Security Council and "to support Israel's inherent right to self-defense," as well as, offering several suggestion to how to augment cooperation between the two nations.
Although the act leaves space for interpretation on what specific kind of munitions the U.S. might be ready to provide to Israel - last week, the topic was discussed in length at the hearing of the House Armed Services Committee.
The bill calls for the U.S. "to enhance the capabilities of the U.S. and Israel to address emerging common threats, increase security cooperation and expand joint military exercises" and "provide the government of Israel with such support as may be necessary to increase development and production of joint missile defense systems." The "Iron dome" anti-missile system is specifically stressed - but what is more interesting in light of the renewed debate over a possible attack on Iran's nuclear facilities if negotiations fail is a clause discussing providing Israel "defense articles and defense services through such mechanisms as appropriate - to include air fueling tankers, missile defense capabilities, and specialized munitions," raising speculation it's the bunker-buster bombs that the Israeli government asked for during the last administration only to be refused by the President George W. Bush.
Another point to pay attention to, especially in light of the recent tensions caused by the decision not to invite Israel to NATO's most recent meetings - reportedly, because of Turkey's objections – though U.S. officials insisted there were no intentions of inviting Israel in the first place. The bill calls for the U.S. government to "work to encourage an expanded role for Israel with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, including an enhanced presence at NATO headquarters and exercises." And, of course, the bill also calls for the U.S. to "expand already-close intelligence cooperation, including satellite intelligence, with Israel."
Senator Barbara Boxer said: “I am so pleased that the Senate moved quickly to pass this important bill, which reaffirms the important bond between the United States and Israel and helps ensure that Israel has the necessary tools to defend itself in this time of dynamic change in the Middle East.” Her co-sponsor, Senator Isakson, added the unanimous vote demonstrated "the United States’ strong, unwavering commitment to Israel and its security and self-defense."
AIPAC applauded passage of the bill and called on Congress "to reconcile expeditiously these two bills to bolster the ties between the United States and Israel." For Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak, who landed Friday in New-York, it was a good start to his four-day visit to the U.S. that will include meetings with UN and the U.S. officials and a conference in Colorado.
There isn't much dissent among Congress on the issue of security cooperation with Israel, these days, but in May, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) was one of two congressmen to vote against the bill, expressed harsh criticism of it. According to Paul the bill was "another piece of one-sided and counter-productive foreign policy legislation. This bill's real intent seems to be more saber-rattling against Iran and Syria, and it undermines U.S. diplomatic efforts by making clear that the U.S. is not an honest broker seeking peace for the Middle East. The bill calls for the United States to significantly increase our provision of sophisticated weaponry to Israel, and states that it is to be U.S. policy to 'help Israel preserve its qualitative military edge' in the region. While I absolutely believe that Israel – and any other nation - should be free to determine for itself what is necessary for its national security, I do not believe that those decisions should be underwritten by U.S. taxpayers and backed up by the U.S. military."
Paul went on to argue that the bill "will not help the United States, it will not help Israel, and it will not help the Middle East. It will implicitly authorize much more US interventionism in the region at a time when we cannot afford the foreign commitments we already have. It more likely will lead to war against Syria, Iran, or both."