the U.S. Should Wish Israel a Happy 70th Birthday
By James Stavridis
and Michael Makovsky
May 8, 2018
Israel is commemorating its 70th anniversary next week, and
the U.S. Embassy is moving
to Jerusalem to coincide with the independence celebrations. It's a strong
symbolic gesture -- but there are several more concrete steps Washington should
take right now to help ensure Israel's security and protect its own interests in
the Middle East.
Over the long term, Israelís very existence is threatened
by Iranís nuclear program, which continues in the form of expanded atomic
research and ballistic missile development, which are unfortunately permitted by
the 2015 nuclear deal. The intelligence
trove revealed by Israel last week confirms Tehranís determination to
acquire nuclear weapons capability -- not a surprise certainly, but a clear
warning of potential danger ahead.
President Donald Trump is expected to address this matter
Tuesday, and most observers believe he will walk away from the nuclear
agreement. This would ratchet up the tension is an already volatile region.
But the most immediate threat to Israel and U.S. interests
isn't Iran's nuclear program, but rather Tehranís stunning expansion of
influence. Its entrenchment in Syria, for example, generates ever-greater
prospects for a major Iranian-Israeli conflict. Iran and its proxies also
threaten America's Sunni Arab allies, seek sway from Lebanon to Yemen, create
more jihadists and refugees, put energy supplies at risk, and target U.S. ships
and Saudi cities with missiles.
Gripped by ďMiddle East fatigue,Ē the U.S. remains
reluctant to increase its military engagement in the region and is inadequately
positioned to counter any of these threats, especially if Trump makes good on
his rhetoric about abruptly pulling U.S. forces from Syria.
Israel, meanwhile, is responding to Tehranís dogged
efforts to establish a permanent military presence in Syria through a series of
air and missile strikes. It has an unlikely ally in Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince
Mohammed bin Salman, who compared Iranís Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
unfavorably to Hitler and acknowledged the Jewish state's right to exist.
The U.S. must support its allies in the growing
confrontation with Iran. It should seize upon Israelís longstanding ethos of
self-defense, and the newfound readiness among Sunni Arab states to defend their
own interests and work quietly with Israel against Iran.
Alone, neither Israel nor Saudi Arabia can fully curtail
and eventually roll back Iranís adventurism. After fact-finding visits to
Jerusalem and other regional capitals supported by the Jewish
Institute for National Security of America, it is clear to us that the U.S.
should bolster its regional partners, particularly Israel, and drive cooperation
Foremost, Washington should consider elevating Israelís
official standing as an ally to that of the U.K. or Australia in terms of
sharing intelligence, weapons technology and other vital information. This would
mean raising Israelís information-sharing clearance to the level enjoyed by
signatories of the ďFive
EyesĒ agreement on signals intelligence, and issuing an executive order
creating a presumption of approval for sharing information, military equipment
and technology with Israel.
Washington also has a legal obligation to ensure Israelís
qualitative military edge over its neighbors. This would best be done by
"frontloading" the 2016 memorandum of understanding under which the
U.S. is providing $38 billion in foreign military and missile-defense funding,
spaced evenly over 10 years.
A fast-tracked MoU could allow Israel to acquire a host of
weapons earlier than initially planned to meet growing threats from Iran and
elsewhere. They might include F-35 fighter-jet squadrons; KC-46 air-refueling
tankers; mobility capabilities like V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft; small-diameter
bombs and Hellfire precision munitions; Joint Direct Attack Munition kits that
turn unguided bombs into smart weapons; drones; and semi-submersible naval
vessels. The U.S. should also replenish Israel's precision munitions and other
critical wartime stockpiles, and consider making Israel a prepositioning base to
support American and allied operations region-wide.
The Pentagon should also consider relocating two Arleigh
Burke-class destroyers from Rota, Spain, to a new homeport in Haifa, Israel.
These ships, with their cutting-edge Aegis combat systems, would be well
positioned to defend Europe against an Iranian missile attack, balance the new
Russian naval presence in the Eastern Mediterranean, and reinforce Israeli
The U.S. also needs to coordinate closely with Israel to
support its allyís legitimate security interests in Syria against Iranian
encroachment. This will require not only deeper intelligence sharing but more
cooperation in cyber operations and missile defense and strike planning.
Finally, Washington should encourage higher levels of
Israeli-Arab security cooperation, acting as a hub between spokes in Riyadh and
Jerusalem, as well as Amman and Cairo. The priority should be regional missile
defense and shared early warning that synchronizes U.S., Israeli and Arab
Cooperation is also possible against Iranian influence on
the Arabian Peninsula and Red Sea. By facilitating Israeli intelligence-sharing
and operational coordination with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the
U.S. could enable more effective action against Iranian arms transfers and
Hezbollah operations in Yemen. Much of this can occur at sea between the
Israeli, American and Arab navies.
By ensuring that Israel can defend itself and facilitating
tacit cooperation between Israel and our Sunni Arab partners, the U.S. can
bolster the anti-Iranian coalition, lay the foundation for a more stable Middle
East and restore its regional leadership -- all without putting significant
numbers of American boots on the ground.