The Obama administration showers the Israel Defense Forces with gifts, like sophisticated radars for F-15 and F-16 fighter jets, and authorization to receive the V-22 helicopter plane (very expensive, perhaps too expensive, though there's nothing like it to pick up pilots left in Iran's deserts and move special forces for long-range missions). We also get advanced refueling aircraft and anti-radiation missiles.
The goal of the arms deal, senior Pentagon officials said ahead of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's visit to Israel early this week and on his way to four Arab capitals, is twofold - to increase the IDF's qualitative edge and provide a great deal of weaponry to Arab countries. Uncle Chuck is bringing the Israelis a package deal; Israel in advance surrendered its tendency to be ungrateful and use its friends in Congress to stymie assistance to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
This is a tripartite deal, American-Israeli-Saudi, based on the Israeli government's agreement that the supply of ground-to-air missiles to Saudi Arabia and the Emirates should be considered not a heightened regional threat to Israel, but the opposite. Directly, Israel will receive considerable military compensation. Indirectly, it will benefit from the bolstered military array against Iran in the Gulf.
It is easy to guess what Hagel will say to the Israeli public. The outgoing commander of U.S. European Command, who also heads NATO forces in Europe, Adm. James Stavridis, likes to write and have his picture taken. There he was on a two-day visit about a week ago, in uniform with IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz in Gantz's office. And there he was in civilian clothes at a social event; and visiting historical and religious sites; and with Israel Navy commander Ram Rothberg at the Haifa base.
At such events, the substance – close collaboration between the two countries and grants of weapons and technology to the IDF – cannot be separated from the image - messaging full U.S. military backing to the Israeli people. The desired conclusion is, of course, that it's neither good nor necessary for Israel to act alone in the region, neither on Syria nor on Iran.
On the eve of his visit, Stavridis wrote that one of NATO's three main goals this year is "defending NATO's border with Syria." Meaning, it is not the country called Turkey but the entire NATO alliance with Turkey that borders Syria. That is from the aspect of defense. As far as offensive operations are concerned, Stavridis wrote on the U.S. European Command website: "In my capacity as U.S. European commander, I believe that the real threat is chemical weapons."
Six decades ago, when NATO was established, the Russian threat drove the Turks into the American fold. Now it's the Syrian threat, which is the impetus for the thaw in Turkish-Israeli relations that Stavridis worked toward and that Hagel likely will continue to promote. On his visit to Israel, Stavridis emphasized, he will be wearing his American hat. He wrote in his blog that he sought "to make sure that the U.S.-Israel military connection remains strong and vibrant given all the challenges in the neighborhood. I'm confident it is in good shape, but I want to listen to our Israeli friends, and explore the possibility of a rapprochement with Turkey."
U.S. European Command is responsible for 51 countries, but Stavridis' intended successor, Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, has put Israel, for the sake of the "strong partnership," ahead of Turkey, Russia and Poland at the top of a list of four key countries with which EUCOM wants to nurture its ties. Breedlove said in testimony at his nomination hearing at the Senate Armed Services Committee that one of the main challenges will be the possible continuation of the Arab Spring and its impact on Israel's shrinking strategic depth.
In addition to concerns about Iran's nuclear ambitions, Israel is worried about Syria's chemical weapons (and missiles), Hezbollah's strength, and the declining influence of the Egyptian military and the resulting instability in Sinai. Therefore the Pentagon seeks to "assure Israel of the U.S. resolve to guarantee its security." Assurance, security, guarantees the practical significance of all these related terms is increasing military assistance to Israel and restricting the freedom to use it.