By Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger
The annual US investment in Israel – erroneously defined as “foreign aid” - has yielded one of the highest rates of return on US investments overseas. Israel is no longer a supplicant, transforming itself from a national security and economic consumer to a national security and economic producer, generating substantial dividends, which exceed the annual investment by its lead investor, the US.
US national and homeland security and commercial interests have derived significant benefits from the special US-Israel cooperative alliance, which has evolved into a unique, mutually-beneficial, two-way-street, win-win relationship, transcending the tension between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, rising above 68-year-old US-Israel disagreements over the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinian issue.
A case in point is the intensified cooperation between the air forces of both countries, as institutionalized by an unprecedented June 2015 strategic agreement, which established twelve teams of officers, codifying a widening range of joint annual agenda: operations, battle tactics, training, maintenance, repairs, airborne medicine, flight safety, etc., in the face of mutual threats, joint interests and constrained budgets.
For example, in 2016, US combat pilots benefit uniquely during joint drills with their Israeli colleagues. The latter always fly in a “do-or-die” state of mind – a result of Israel’s narrow geographic waistline in a violently unpredictable neighborhood - which generates more daring and innovative maneuvers, shared with their US colleagues. Recently, Israel’s air force developed a ground-breaking method of identifying, repairing and preempting cracks in old combat planes, such as the F-16, promptly shared with the US Air Force and manufacturer. Instead of grounding the planes for six months and preoccupying hundreds of mechanics, the Israeli-developed system – based on a baby-viewing ultrasound device - requires two weeks and only a few mechanics, yielding significant economic and national security benefits.
In 1989, 1969 and 1966, Israel snatched a Soviet Mig-23, a most advanced P-12 Soviet early warning radar and ELINT (electronic signals intelligence) system and a Soviet Mig-21 from Syria, Egypt and Iraq respectively. All were transferred to the US, which evaluated the aircrafts, integrating the lessons into the US battle tactics, counter-measures and defense industries, which tilted the global balance of power in favor of the US, providing the US defense industries with a substantial competitive edge. In 1982, Israel devised innovative technologies and battle tactics, setting groundbreaking standards for orchestrated air operations, proving – for the first time ever – that the most advanced mobile Soviet SAMs (surface-to-air missile) could be jammed, penetrated and destroyed. 20 SAM batteries, deployed by Syria, were dismembered and 89 Soviet Mig-21s, Mig-23s and Su-20s were downed in the process. The Israeli lessons were shared with the US, dramatically enhancing US military, technological and industrial capabilities, causing another setback to the USSR.
The 1967 and 1973 wars highlighted Israel as a critical outpost, advancing US interests regionally and globally: crushing the military forces of anti-US, pro-Soviet Arab regimes (Egypt and Syria) and snatching pro-US Arab regimes (Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States) from the jaws of defeat. In addition, Israel Defense Forces served as a laboratory testing the performance of US-made weaponry against Soviet-made weaponry. Thus, in 1974, some 50 US military experts, headed by General Donn Starry, spent six months, studying Israel’s battle tactics and the captured Soviet military systems, producing eight thick volumes, which enhanced the US defense of Europe during the Cold War and US air and land battle doctrines during the 1991 Gulf War.
For instance, General (ret.) Charles Krulak, former Commandant of the US Marine Corps, conducted his 1991 battles against Saddam Hussein’s Russian tanks, in accordance with the 1973 Israeli tank battles against Soviet tanks in Sinai. In 2014, General Krulak stated: “The US battle tactic formulation, at Fort Leavenworth, KS, the intellectual Mecca of the US Army, is based on the Israeli book.”
According to General George Keegan, a former US Air Force Intelligence Chief, the value of intelligence shared by Israel with the US – exposing adversaries’ Air Force capabilities, new military systems, electronics and jamming devices – “could not be procured with five CIAs…. The ability of the US Air Force in particular, and the Army in general, to defend whatever position it has in NATO, owes more to the Israeli intelligence input than it does to any other single source of intelligence, be it satellite reconnaissance, be it technology intercept, or what have you.” A similar assessment was made by the late Senator Daniel Inouye, who was the Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, the Appropriations Committee and its Defense Subcommittee: “Israel provides the US with more intelligence than all NATO countries combined, especially on adversarial Muslim countries and terrorists targeting Americans abroad and on the mainland.”
In 2016, Israel’s Air Force, which flies US-made aircraft, is the most cost-effective, battle-tested laboratory of the US Air Force and defense industries. It shares with them – real time online - operational, maintenance and repair lessons, which enhance US battle performance and upgrade research and development, global competitiveness, exports and employment base of the US defense industries (e.g., Lockheed-Martin, McDonnell Douglas, Bell Helicopter, Boeing Defense, Northrop Grumman, etc.). Similar lessons – experienced by Israel’s Defense Forces – have been shared with the US Army, Navy and Marine Corps and all related-industries, valued at mega billion dollars, yielding a game-changing contributions to US national and homeland security.
In 2016, against the backdrop of mounting conventional and terrorist threats, the collapse of Europe’s military power projection, the erosion of the Western posture of deterrence, and the growing instability, fragmentation, unpredictability and doubtful reliability of pro-US Arab regimes, Israel stands out as the most stable, predictable, reliable, capable and productive (militarily and commercially), democratic, unconditional ally/beachhead in a critical region, extending the strategic arm of the US military, which has been burdened by draconian cuts.