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US Senate sends Biden defense bill, with funding for cyber-cooperation for Israel

National Defense Authorization Act, which passed overwhelmingly, includes creation of interparliamentary group of US, Israel, Greece, Cyprus to combat Turkish aggression

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

US flags seen near the Capitol Building in Washington, DC on January 19, 2021, ahead of the 59th inaugural ceremony for President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. (Photo by ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP)
US flags seen near the Capitol Building in Washington, DC on January 19, 2021, ahead of the 59th inaugural ceremony for President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. (Photo by ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP)

The US Senate overwhelmingly passed a $768.2 billion defense bill on Wednesday, which includes hundreds of millions in funding for Israel-related programs, sending the legislation to President Joe Biden for his signature.

Among the amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act is the US Israel Cybersecurity Cooperation Enhancement Act, establishing a grant program to facilitate closer bilateral cybersecurity cooperation. Introduced by senators Jacky Rosen (Democrat), Susan Collins (Republican), Todd Young (Republican) and Sheldon Whitehouse (Democrat), the measure makes $30 million in funding available to private firms, nonprofit organizations, academic institutions, and government entities in either country, so long as accepted applicants engage in a joint venture with a corresponding institution in the other country.

The NDAA also includes an amendment establishing an interparliamentary group of the US, Israel, Greece and Cyprus aimed at combating Turkish aggression in the Mideast.

The bill allocates $500 million in funding for US-Israel missile defense cooperation, which will go toward bilateral weapons projects such as the Iron Dome, David’s Sling and David’s Arrow missile systems. It also includes amendments aimed at blocking the transfer of funds to Iran.

Speaking to reporters in Malaysia on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the bill and the administration as a whole helped ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge in the Middle East.

Several pro-Israel organizations including AIPAC, the American Jewish Committee and Christians United For Israel lauded the passing of the bill, which passed 88 to 11 in the Senate.

Rep. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., speaks with Roll Call in her office on Capitol Hill on October 26, 2017. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

However, the food security group MAZON lamented that the bill did not go far enough in providing for military families in need.

“While some help is better than no help, Congress’s decision to effectively abandon thousands of military families who face chronic food insecurity is unacceptable,” said the group’s president Abby Leibman.”Nevertheless, today’s NDAA passage in the Senate marks the first time that both chambers of Congress have at least sought to use their legislative authority to provide systemic support for hungry military families.”

The annual bill, which has passed both the House and Senate every year for decades without fail, nevertheless was delayed in the Senate by various disputes, including a separate effort to halt goods produced by forced Uighur labor in China from entering the US. That measure also is now headed toward final approval and Biden’s desk.

The legislation includes a 2.7% pay raise for both military servicemembers and the civilian Defense Department workforce, and authorizes $75.3 million for the operation of the Armed Forces Retirement Home. It also authorizes $9.9 billion for defense needs outside the bill’s traditional jurisdiction, bringing the overall price tag to $777 billion.

A new war memorial established by the NDAA will honor those who served in the Global War on Terrorism, launched in response to the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US.

AP contributed to this report

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