U.S., Israeli Military Cooperation Remains Strong

Obama has upped military aid to Israel even as diplomatic relations have ebbed.


U.S. President Barack Obama and his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu are expected to have frank talks in Washington on Monday. The two may clash over whether to take out Iran's nuclear arms, but any discussion of military cooperation will be far rosier.

Relations between the Obama and Netanyahu administration have chilled in recent years, with the former pressuring the latter on a number of issues. What is more, Israel wants Obama to take a harder line about preventing its arch-enemy, Iran, from fielding an atomic arsenal.

In an interview this week, Obama said no one should think he is bluffing when he says U.S. officials still consider a military strike in Iran an option.

[Photo Gallery: Iran Flexes Military Muscle in Persian Gulf.]

One thing that is clear about the U.S.-Israeli relationship: Washington is certainly not bluffing about its commitment to help its closest Middle East ally defend itself.

"The military relationship is pretty solid," says Alireza Nader, an analyst at the RAND Corporation. "For instance, the U.S. and Israel has been cooperating with development of an anti-ballistic missile system. ... The U.S. also has stationed military systems inside Israel."

The two nations have continued -- and in some cases enhanced--their robust cooperation on military training and joint exercises, Nader says.

"If there are any tensions, it's about strategy more than anything," Nader says.

Since taking office in 2009, the Obama administration has increased military aid dollars for Israel. Aid to Jerusalem in 2009 was around $2.6 billion, a figure that has grown to $3 billion in 2012, according to data tracked by the Jewish Virtual Library, a non-profit organization that studies U.S.-Israeli relations.

A core aspect of U.S.-Israeli military cooperation is joint missile defense programs. On three missile programs at the center of those efforts, The Obama administration is spending $235 million in 2012 on three missile defense systems: David's Sling, Arrow-2 and High Altitude Arrow-3. That was up from $156 million in 2008, the last year of the Bush administration, which experts say had a closer relationship with Israel.

Those are efforts the administration should continue, according to a new Center for Strategic and International Studies report.

"The U.S. must continue to equip, modernize, and train the forces of its regional allies to confront [Iranian] asymmetric threats," the report states. "The U.S. must be fully prepared for the range of ... military options Iran is developing."

During Netanyahu's much-anticipated Washington visit, Nader says it is likely the Israeli president will "put new pressure on the Obama administration to make the U.S. military threat toward Iran more credible."

While much will be made next week about everything from Obama and Netanyahu's body language to their public comments, Nader says "there's something to be said about these two nations sharing the same perception of the Iranian nuclear program."