WASHINGTON — Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and his US counterpart Ashton Carter were slated to deliver a joint lecture in Washington Tuesday, in a sign of rebounding security ties between Israel and the US in the wake of tensions over the Iran nuclear deal.
The speech at Washington’s National Defense University comes as part of an extended fence-mending visit that sought to highlight the closeness of US-Israel security ties.
The US and Israel recently restarted the process of negotiating a new 10-year security memorandum of understanding to replace the current one, which will expire in 2017.
The Obama administration inherited the previous Bush-era memorandum, and it is expected that the current administration will leave a new one as part of its legacy to whoever wins the November 2016 presidential elections.
Last week, ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer confirmed during a speech in Washington that Israel and the United States have resumed talks on the memorandum, a centerpiece of US defense aid to Israel.
The decade-long aid package is expected to extend the annual funding, which today sits at approximately $3 billion per year. While the funding is critical to Israel’s ability to maintain a qualitative military advantage over neighboring states, talks over the new memorandum were frozen at the peak of US-Israel acrimony over the Iran deal.
While Israeli officials have stressed that they do not see the new agreement as a tit-for-tat for the Iran deal, security experts have said that they do expect the new agreement to take into consideration additional security concerns raised by the conditions created by the controversial agreement.
The closeness of security ties between the US and Israel – and specifically between Carter and Ya’alon – has been on display since the defense chief’s arrival Monday.
Speaking at a Monday evening memorial service for slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, Ya’alon described Carter as his “good friend,” emphasizing that Carter has “time and again proven his commitment to the security of the State of Israel.”
The two, Ya’alon said, “will discuss how to further increase the IDF’s capacity and capabilities to maintain our qualitative edge, given increased and growing regional threats on the security of our country.”
Ya’alon, who has been one of the sharpest critics of Washington’s policies regarding Iran, took a conciliatory tone on Monday, declaring that “the United States is Israel’s greatest friend. Its contribution to our security is tremendous and is truly our strategic cornerstone.”
“The relationship between the United States and Israel is based on shared values and interests, and is clearly expressed in the strong ties between our defense establishments, armed forces and intelligence agencies.”
In addition to thanking the “American people” and Congress, Ya’alon expressed gratitude to “President Barack Obama…for your contribution and commitment to our security. There is no truer friend of Israel than the United States of America – and no difference of opinion can harm this relationship.”
Shows of mutual affinity and the F-35
On Wednesday, the two are scheduled to visit a naval air station outside of Washington DC where they will observe a demonstration of the F-35 Lightening II fighter airplane. Israel was an early buyer of the plane and is slated to receive its first shipment of the cutting-edge airplane in 2016. IAF pilots have already begun training for service with the F-35, which will be known in Hebrew as the “Adir” and is considered to be 15 technology-years more advanced than Israel’s current fighter aircraft.
The development of the F-35 has been plagued by budgetary and technical challenges, including an ejection seat that apparently can kill pilots who weigh under 200 lbs, but also includes technologies that make it vie with the American-produced F-22 for the title of most advanced fighter airplane in the world.
On display Wednesday will be the $400,000 custom-fit helmets which provide pilots with a 360-degree view of their aircraft’s surroundings. Ya’alon and Carter will have a chance to personally test out the technology on the ground.
In keeping the visit focused on professional-level security ties, Ya’alon may avoid the minefield he walked in to during a visit exactly one year ago this week.
During that October trip to Washington, Ya’alon met with then-defense secretary Chuck Hagel, but was denied meetings at the State Department and the White House, including with Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Advisor Susan Rice.
Ya’alon’s problems in the US capital came after a report in Yedioth Ahronoth quoted him as saying that Kerry should “take his Nobel Prize and leave us alone.”
Although Ya’alon made lukewarm conciliatory statements before his October 2014 visit, the snubs added to the then-growing feelings of open tensions between the two administrations.
“The US assists Israel in a variety of areas, most prominently of course in the field of security, and we must remember that and acknowledge its leaders and thank them for this,” his statement issued at the time read. “The respective defense establishments in both countries have a relationship whose intimacy is unprecedented in scope and importance for Israel’s security.”
This year, the visit is part of a chain of shows of mutual affinity that – at least on the surface – emphasize that the tensions that emerged following the collapse of the last round of peace talks in spring 2014 and the Iranian nuclear deal reached in July of this year are behind the two administrations.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with President Barack Obama at the White House on November 9, and just last week, another fierce critic of the Iran deal – Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz – held consultations with his American counterpart, Ernst Moniz.
While Steinitz traveled to Washington, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, visited Israel on his first official overseas visit since he took the reins of the US military October 1.