US President Barack Obama.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – Israel is now officially a strategic partner of the United States, a classification held by no other nation, according to a bill signed into law by US President Barack Obama on Friday.
The United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014 took more than a year to draft in Congress, and became an omnibus bill for the US-Israel relationship, reinforcing cooperation across industries with a focus on defense.
Signing the law, the president hailed its bipartisan support and said it “reflects the importance placed by my administration on strengthening and deepening US-Israel bilateral cooperation and ties.”
“It reinforces critical defense and security programs, which have reached an unprecedented level under my administration,” Obama said. “It also lays the groundwork for increased trade and cooperation across a range of cutting-edge fields, including energy, water, agriculture and technology.”
Recommitting the US to maintaining Israel’s “qualitative military edge” over its neighbors in the Middle East, the act expands authority for the forward deployment of US-made weapons stockpiles in Israeli conflicts.
It is the policy of the United States, the bill reads, “to reaffirm the unwavering support of the people and the government of the United States for the security of Israel as a Jewish state.”
The law expands cooperation on energy policies in significant ways.
Both countries are committed to “leveraging natural gas to positively impact regional stability,” it reads, urging engagement with the private sector on regulatory provisions, deep-water exploration and alternative transportation fuels.
Absent from the bill, however, is any commitment by the US to incorporate Israel into the visa-waiver program in the near future, as long sought by Jerusalem. Israeli border policies require adjustment before the country qualifies, the State Department said.
That provision held up progress on the bill for months, as organizations such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobbied for its incorporation.
Ultimately, the law included a provision that states Israel “shall be” included in the program “when Israel satisfies, and as long as Israel ments for inclusion in such program specified in such section.”
Members of Congress Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida), Ted Deutch (D-Florida), Ed Royce (R-California), Eliot Engel (D-New York) and Senators Barbara Boxer (D-California) and Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) authored the law.