U.S. Official: More American Aid Will Help Israel Make 'Tough' Decisions

An expanded security aid package would allow Israel to reach "tough decisions" in 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 military aid package in history.

Shapiro noted that in 2010, the administration asked Congress to approve $2.775 billion in security aid for Israel, the largest such request in U.S. history.

"This administration believes that pursuing peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and Israel and its neighbors, can be a mutually reinforcing process," Shapiro said, adding that it was "more essential than ever to make progress on all tracks."

He was speaking at the Brookings Saban Center for Middle East Policy in Washington D.C.

Shapiro reiterated the U.S.'s commitment to Israel's security: "Israel's right to exist, and to defend itself, is not questionable. No lasting peace will be possible unless that fact is accepted." He added: "Israel is a vital ally and a cornerstone of our regional security commitments."

Referring to the security threats that 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 Israel's security precisely because of the increasingly complex and severe threats that it faces in the region."

He noted that while the Iranian nuclear program is the gravest of these, it is not the only one. "Iran and Syria both pose significant conventional challenges," Shapiro said, as do 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."

"Iron Dome," Shapiro said, "fills a gap in Israel's multi-tiered defense system. Israel has conducted thorough tests of Iron Dome components and we've conducted an evaluation of our own. We are confident that Iron Dome will provide improved defense for the people of Israel."