Panetta: U.S.-Israel Partnership Will Become Closer

WASHINGTON, March 6, 2012 — Defense coop­er­a­tion between the U.S. and Israel is already close, and it will get clos­er as both coun­tries face the threats of the future, Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta said today.

Panet­ta spoke to the Amer­i­can Israel Pub­lic Affairs Com­mit­tee here and said the Unit­ed States and Israel will work close­ly togeth­er in the face of the dan­gers that con­front both coun­tries. “The secu­ri­ty bonds between Israel and the Unit­ed States will only grow as Amer­i­ca goes through a his­toric turn­ing point after a decade of war,” he said.

In fact, defense coop­er­a­tion will grow even with U.S. defense bud­get reduc­tions. Panet­ta deliv­ered “an iron­clad pledge” that the Unit­ed States will pro­vide what­ev­er sup­port is nec­es­sary so Israel main­tains mil­i­tary supe­ri­or­i­ty over any state or coali­tion of states, as well as non-state actors, in the region.

“Israel is sur­round­ed by neigh­bors that have waged wars against it,” he said. “The Israeli peo­ple have been sub­ject­ed to rock­et attacks, to ter­ror­ism, and they live in a world where larg­er nations have threat­ened to wipe them off the map.”

Sup­port­ing Israel is the right thing to do and isin America’s best inter­ests, Panet­ta said.

“We have no bet­ter ally in this crit­i­cal region of the world,” he said. “A strong Israel deters poten­tial aggres­sors. A strong Israel sends a mes­sage to the region and to the world that Amer­i­ca will not waver in defense of our allies.”

The U.S. has increased secu­ri­ty assis­tance to Israel sub­stan­tial­ly. This year, the bud­get calls for $31 bil­lion in assis­tance to the nation, up from $2.5 bil­lion in fis­cal 2009.

“This is part of a 10-year, $30 bil­lion com­mit­ment to Israel’s secu­ri­ty,” Panet­ta said. “Over and above this com­mit­ment, the Pres­i­dent has com­mit­ted more than $650 mil­lion in DOD fund­ing for Israeli mis­sile defense.”

The U.S. is work­ing with Israel to devel­op an anti-mis­sile sys­tem to address the threat from all lev­els. The sys­tem will deal with short-range defense to counter the con­tin­ued threat of rock­et bar­rages from Gaza. The Unit­ed States pro­vid­ed more than $200 mil­lion for the Iron Dome rock­et defense sys­tem.

“Iron Dome is field­ed, it is oper­a­tional, and this new sys­tem has already saved the lives of Israeli civil­ians with over 30 real world suc­cess­ful hit-to-kill inter­cepts in 2011,” Panet­ta said.

The two nations are also work­ing on medi­um range mis­sile defense, devel­op­ing David’s Sling, and upper tier bal­lis­tic mis­sile defense with the Arrow-3 sys­tem.

“We are also work­ing to upgrade Israel’s Patri­ot mis­sile sys­tem and bat­ter­ies,” he said. “We are com­mit­ted to mov­ing for­ward with all of these sys­tems and more — because as the Prime Min­is­ter told me — these mis­sile shields do not start wars, they pre­vent wars.”

The sec­re­tary not­ed the Israeli air force will receive the world’s most sophis­ti­cat­ed war­plane — the F-35 Joint Strike Fight­er.

“The F-35 is the future of tac­ti­cal avi­a­tion for the Unit­ed States mil­i­tary, and pro­vid­ing Israel with this advanced fight­er makes it the only coun­try in the Mid­dle East with a true fifth-gen­er­a­tion fight­er capac­i­ty, uphold­ing Israel’s edge not just now but for many years to come,” the sec­re­tary said.

The two mil­i­taries will not only share equip­ment, but also oper­a­tional con­cepts. U.S. and Israeli ser­vice mem­bers will build greater capa­bil­i­ty and improve part­ner­ship through real­is­tic exer­cis­es, joint train­ing and per­son­nel exchanges, Panet­ta said.

“Each year, U.S. and Israeli forces take part in numer­ous exer­cis­es,” he said. One exam­ple is mis­sile defense exer­cise Aus­tere Chal­lenge that this year will include more than 3,000 U.S. troops.

“This kind of coop­er­a­tion is mutu­al­ly ben­e­fi­cial to both the Unit­ed States and Israel. It has made both of our mil­i­taries stronger,” Panet­ta said.

The sec­re­tary point­ed out that coop­er­a­tion is not just a one-way street. It was an Israeli com­pa­ny that met the call to help pro­tect Amer­i­can sol­diers serv­ing in Iraq and Afghanistan by surg­ing pro­duc­tion of up-armor kits for Humvees and mine-resis­tant vehi­cles.

“The kits were made in an Israeli kib­butz, and they saved the lives of our men and women in uni­form,” Panet­ta said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)