NATO's European Commander Told U.S. Congress: Threats to Israel Have Declined in Past Year

Israel is actually safer than it was previously, in part because of the uprising in Syria, U.S. Navy Admiral James Stavridis told Congress this spring.

Not only have the threats against Israel not grown in the last year, but the country is actually safer than it was previously, in part because of the uprising in Syria, according to NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe.

U.S. Navy Admiral James Stavridis, commander of the U.S. European Command, was questioned about Israel while testifying before Congress this spring. His questioner, Congressman Rob Wittman (R-VA ), argued that "the instability in the region coupled with the numerous threats to Israel has increased in the last year," and asked him what EUCOM was doing "to ensure the defense of Israel and ensure the stability of the region?"

EUCOM is responsible for military contacts or operations involving Israel, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority, but not those involving Egypt, Jordan, Iran and Iraq. Stavridis' testimony to Congress was recently published on the website of the Federation of American Scientists.

"First, while Israel is certainly in a volatile region of the world, I would argue that the threats to Israel have not increased in the last year," Stavridis replied. "If you take the broad view of the history of the modern state of Israel, it is certainly more secure now that it was in 1948, 1967, 1973, or even during the First or Second Intifadas.

"Israel currently has signed peace treaties with two of its four neighbors. A third neighbor, Syria, is currently undergoing a period of serious internal unrest and is in no position to threaten Israel militarily. The terrorist threat posed by Lebanese Hezbollah from within the fourth neighbor has been deterred from overt attacks since the war in 2006.

"Moreover, the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has renounced violence. Unrest in the West Bank has subsided significantly over the last few years. Similarly, since Operation Cast Lead in 2008, rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip have never been more than sporadic. The most recent attack, from March 9-12, saw nearly 250 rockets launched without causing a single Israeli casualty.

"Second, since the Arab Spring, Israel faces a more uncertain neighborhood," Stavridis acknowledged. "This effect, particularly in Egypt, combined with the continued Iranian nuclear program gives the Israeli government reason for concern about the future."

However, he added, "EUCOM's robust bilateral and multilateral military exercise program offers the Israel Defense Forces strong reassurances of the United States' strong commitment to the security of Israel."

He then proceeded to list seven joint exercises that had either already taken place or were planned to take place this year. Some of these are bilateral exercises, while others also involve other countries, such as Greece.

The seven exercises involve the special forces (an exercise known as JCET ), the navy (three exercises - Noble Dina, Noble Melinda and Reliant Mermaid ), the marines (Noble Shirley ), the National Guard (an exercise in responding to a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosive attack ), and a combined forces operation that includes ballistic missile defense drills (Austere Challenge, which includes the Juniper Cobra and Juniper Falcon exercises ). The latter, scheduled for October, is the one that the United States recently scaled down drastically, from a planned 5,000 troops to possibly as few as 1,200.