Strengthening the U.S.-Israel Economic and Strategic Partnership
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before a joint session of Congress remind the American people that, despite reports of strains in the partnership, U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation has recently accelerated on a number of fronts. Building on the Memorandum of Understanding signed with Israel by then-President George W. Bush in 2007 to enable Israel to meet evolving threats, in December, President Obama signed the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Agreement, declaring that Israel is a “major strategic partner” of the United States. The Agreement lays the foundation for enhanced cooperation on issues from cybersecurity and agriculture to alternative fuel technologies and defense. As President Obama observed following the signing, “This bipartisan piece of legislation reflects the importance placed by my administration on strengthening and deepening U.S.-Israel bilateral cooperation and ties.”
In recent years, U.S.-Israeli strategic cooperation has taken many forms. One result of this cooperative dynamic was the officially unacknowledged but widely recognized U.S.-Israeli covert cyber-operation – Stuxnet – that disabled 1,000 centrifuges at Iran’s Natanz facility and is estimated to have set the Iranian nuclear program back two years. The U.S. also funded significant system additions to Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system that continues to protect its citizens from rocket attacks. Additionally, Israel cooperates with the West through NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue framework which contributes to regional security and stability.
While Israel’s contributions to U.S. national security are important, U.S. economic ties are just as vital. Israel was the first country with which the U.S. negotiated its first bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) 30 years ago. Since the Agreement’s inception, trade between the two democracies has increased tenfold to more than $40 billion annually, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Despite representing only 2 percent of the population in the region, Israel is the leading importer of American goods. In 2009, a U.S.-based energy company discovered a deep-water natural gas deposit and is working with Israeli companies to develop this resource to secure Israel’s energy independence for years to come. Because of Israel’s earned reputation for being an innovation hub, more than 250 multinational companies have research and development centers there, including significant American companies like Cisco, Intel, Apple, Microsoft and IBM.
Since Israel’s founding almost 67 years ago, the U.S and Israel have, except during a few brief periods, enjoyed strong relations. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to the United States underscores how important Israelis see the partnership, and the invitation to him to address Congress highlights Israel’s importance to U.S. leaders. However, the mutually beneficial relationship with Israel must remain above the partisan politics that have gripped and gridlocked Washington, D.C. No matter who occupies the White House or what the composition of Congress, the relationship with this important economic partner and strategic ally must remain strong.