The US House of Representatives passed a bill on Wednesday that declares Israel a "major strategic partner" of the United States, reinforcing the broad relationship between the two nations and laying the groundwork for more expansive strategic cooperation.
The bill would expand the delivery of forward-deployed US weapons to Israel, as well as other military technologies, and would commit Congress to further funding of the Iron Dome short-range missile defense system.
Controversially, the bill would also invite Israel into a visa waiver agreement with the US, which has been opposed by members of the intelligence community and the Democratic caucus for multiple years.
The bill passed 410-1 in the House. The Senate has taken up a similar measure, which is still in the committee process.
Just a day after its annual policy conference in Washington, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee declared the bill's passage a victory, and characterized the measure as "dramatically strengthening the US-Israel relationship."
"This designation lays the foundation for expanded US-Israel cooperation in a wide variety of spheres, including defense, intelligence, homeland security, energy, agriculture and trade," AIPAC said in a statement, applauding the bill as "critical" and calling on the Senate to act with similar haste.
The second half of the bill, which focuses on US-Israel energy relationships, was authored by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Ranking Member Henry A. Waxman (D-CA) and aims to strengthen collaboration between the two countries on energy projects.
The United States-Israel Energy Cooperation Enhancement Bill first passed through the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee on December 11, and a Senate companion bill passed through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on December 20. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, was responsible for the Senate companion bill, alongside Se.s Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).
This portion of the bill officially determines that "United States-Israel energy cooperation, and the development of natural resources by Israel, are strategic interests of the United States," recognizing Israel specifically as a partner in water technology, safety and security arenas. Encouraging the US National Science Foundation to collaborate with the Israel Science Foundation, the text also encourages more robust academic cooperation in a variety of energy-related fields.
Advocating "open dialogue and continued mechanisms for regular engagement," the bill calls for continued energy partnerships among government and academic institutions as well as the private sector from both sides. Some particular topics of interest include identifying priorities for developing Israeli natural resources, discussing best practices to secure cyber energy infrastructure, leveraging natural gas to positively impact regional stability and improving energy efficiency, the bill says.
The bill also acknowledges the important role of the US-Israel Binational research and Development Foundation (BIRD) and the US-Israel Binational Science Foundation, and commits continued multiyear funding "to ensure the continuity of the programs of the foundations."
“I am pleased this important measure was included in the legislative package and encouraged to see it received such overwhelming support," Upton said, following the bill's passage. "With a simple amendment to the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, this legislation will help bolster the partnership between Israel and the US on energy production and help enhance energy security."
With American assistance, Israel will be able to continue making advancements in developing its natural resources, Upton stressed. He also committed to working on future "commonsense energy solutions" with colleagues from both sides of the aisle, as occurred while drafting this legislation.
"Today the House passed an important bill that will expand the partnership between the U.S. and Israel," Waxman agreed. "Israel is a close ally, and it is in our national interest to help the Israelis development their natural resources in a responsible way that protects the environment."