Wednesday, August 18, 2010

USA intensifies Military Cooperation with Israel


TZEELIM, Israel—While the U.S. and Israeli diplomatic relations weather their choppiest phase in years, behind the scenes, military commanders from the two countries have dramatically stepped up cooperation.

The intensified partnership is part of the Obama administration's broader policy of boosting military support for American allies in the Mideast amid heightened tensions with Iran and its allies such as Hezbollah and Hamas, according to U.S. officials. The Obama administration believes it may also help induce Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make concessions in talks with Palestinians, these officials said.

U.S. military aid to Israel has increased markedly this year. Top-ranking U.S. and Israeli soldiers have shuttled between Tel Aviv and Washington with unusual frequency in recent months. A series of joint military exercises in Israel over the past monthshas included a record number of American troops...

...Two joint U.S.-Israel committees, the U.S.-Israel Joint Political Military Group and the Defense Policy Advisory Group, which were established years ago and had fallen into disuse, have been beefed up with senior officials, including Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Michele Flournoy, the top-ranking civilian at the Pentagon, Israeli and U.S. officials said.

The military cooperation began to intensify even as diplomatic relations between Washington and Israel frayed...

Officials in Washington and Israel continue to say they haven't ruled out a military strike against Iran amid Tehran's nuclear standoff with the West. But the new cooperation appears to be part saber-rattling at Iran and part reassuring Israel that the U.S. is fully committed to its security.

The senior U.S. official said President Barack Obama felt the increased military support is necessary to assure Israel's security against mounting regional threats, including Iran and its allies: Syria, the Gaza-based Hamas and Hezbollah in Lebanon. "History has shown that Israel is more willing to take risks for peace when it feels it is capable of addressing its security needs," the official said.

U.S. military aid to Israel reached a high of $2.78 billion in 2010, up from $2.55 billion in 2009. It is slated to jump to $3 billion in 2011. The Obama administration has also requested an additional $205 million to fund a short-range rocket defense shield known as Iron Dome.

Washington's stepped-up military support comes amid similar moves to strengthen military ties with America's Arab allies in the region, including those that don't maintain ties with Israel.

This week, the Obama administration said it intended to provide new Patriot missile batteries to Kuwait. And Washington is readying a $60 billion sale of advanced F-15 fighter jets and attack helicopters to Saudi Arabia...
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