US Congress passes Israel strategic partnership bill

Legislation to deepen defense, energy ties, strengthen cooperation in R&D, business, academics

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

The US Capitol building where Congress meets in Washington. (Photo credit:
The US Capitol building where Congress meets in Washington. (Photo credit: Capitol image via Shutterstock)

WASHINGTON – The landmark US-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014 passed its final legislative hurdle and advanced to the White House for President Barack Obama’s signature during a Wednesday evening Congressional session.

The bill passed the Senate unanimously in September.

“I am proud that the House and Senate spoke with one voice to pass this bill that reaffirms and strengthens the relationship between the United States and Israel,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), one of the bill’s two original sponsors in the Senate. “I look forward to the president signing this critical legislation.”

“This bipartisan bill demonstrates Congress’s commitment to supporting our nation’s longstanding ally, Israel,” Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO), the bill’s other sponsor added. “I thank my colleagues in the House and Senate for their support in passing this important legislation, and I look forward to the president signing it into law.”

The legislation deepens US-Israeli cooperation on defense and energy, and expresses “the sense of Congress that Israel is a major strategic partner of the United States.” In addition, it authorizes an increase of $200 million in the value of US weapons held in forward stockpiles in Israel, to a total of $1.8 billion. In the event of an emergency, Israel can access the stockpiles as long as it reimburses the US for any weapons used.

The bill also expands cooperation on research and development, business, agriculture, water management and academics.

The bill requires the administration to take steps toward allowing Israel to be included in the top-tier category for license-free exports of certain US defense technologies and products as well as to provide more frequent and more detailed assessments on the status of Israel’s qualitative military edge over its neighbors.

Earlier this year, Congress increased US funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, to $351 million for fiscal year 2015 from $235 million the previous year.

A controversial section of the Strategic Partnership bill that sought to secure a special exemption for Israel in the Visa Waiver Program was replaced instead with language that simply states that it shall be the policy of the United States to include Israel in the list of countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Program when Israel satisfies — and as long as Israel continues to satisfy — the requirements for inclusion in the program.

Members of the House on both sides of the aisle quickly congratulated the bipartisan effort in bringing the bill to passage.

“The US-Israel relationship is based on a shared determination to defend democracy and ensure that the people of Israel can live peacefully in their ancient homeland,” lauded House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD). “Those who would stand opposed to Israel’s right to exist or its important historic role ought to see in today’s legislative action a reminder that the American people stands shoulder-to-shoulder with our ally Israel as it seeks the peace and security it deserves.”

Shortly after the bill passed, the American Jewish Committee congratulated Congress for its “moral leadership” in passing the legislation, which proponents said would create a special status for Israel.

AFP contributed to this report.

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