The United States and Israel: A Vital Security Relationship

Throughout my academic career, from preparing for debates in high school to studying international relations in college I observed and understood that the United States and Israel have a special relationship with one another. My understanding of and appreciation for the importance of our country’s relationship with Israel has only deepened over time.

Growing up with a Jewish father, my wife was surrounded by the traditions of his faith from a young age and her connection to those traditions immediately raised my personal awareness of the security issues facing Israel and the connection between Israel and the United States. More directly, I was recently deployed to Afghanistan and served with distinction as a member of the U.S. Naval Reserve. I had a front-row seat on the front line of war against Islamic extremism. Unfortunately it seems that over time fewer American politicians appreciate the connection our nation shares with Israel or the importance of this friendship in holding the line against the growth of extremism.

Unfortunately, as foreign policy has become increasingly subject to partisan tensions rather than what is in the national interest, these relationships have borne the brunt of the abuse. We live in an era where the President’s political operatives set up campaign organizations to work against foreign leaders of allied nations. It hasn’t been that long since operations of our intelligence agencies that gather information about our allies and their leaders has been exposed. In such an environment how can the United States maintain productive working relationships with strategic allies?

A safe, peaceful international environment is in everyone’s interest. That said, unfortunately conflict is a way of life in too many parts of the world. Leaders desperate to cling to power use fear and hate to radicalize populations, inciting them to violence as a means to accomplish their goals. So long as conflict is part of this world, we need to look to peaceful solutions but be ready to address those who are not afraid to use others as weapons to do us and our allies harm with quick, decisive action. There are a number of areas where this challenge confronts our foreign policy as it relates to Israel.

The Iran Challenge

I would classify Iran as a nation state who is working to achieve strategic political objectives by military force, dominating their neighbors and breaking internationally-recognized agreements regarding their territorial boundaries. Unfortunately, President Obama and a significant number of senators have chosen to ignore this track record and move forward with a bad agreement that puts international peace and stability at risk.

While it has become a cliché to say that the future stability of the world depends on a certain issue, in the case of the Iran nuclear deal, it could not be more true. Under the proposed agreement with Iran, the United States lifts its sanctions in exchange for Iran temporarily – not permanently – suspending its nuclear program. It allows Iran to acquire advanced weapons in five years and ballistic missiles in eight, and leaves intact nearly all of Iran’s extensive nuclear infrastructure. If that’s not enough, a side deal with the International Atomic Energy Agency will allow Iran to self-inspect nuclear sites rather than use international inspectors.

My conviction to be tough on Iran is not new. As an Indiana state senator, I co-authored state sanctions against Iran. While I disagree with his interpretation Secretary of State John Kerry testified before Congress that this deal is an agreement, not a treaty, and therefore should not usurp the Indiana state law and sanctions I helped write into law.

While state sanctions may help some, America and Israel, our staunchest and most cherished ally in the Mideast, will not be safer under this agreement. Instead, the deal makes us more vulnerable to Iran. Once Iran’s compliance is verified, nearly all economic, financial, and energy sanctions will disappear. Iran will receive up to $150 billion which could be used to significantly augment its support for international terrorism.

Although the Iran Deal does not provide many options in terms of enforcement, President Obama and his administration have repeatedly stated that this deal does not negatively impact our efforts to safeguard our nation against terrorist attacks nor would it prevent our efforts to protect human rights around the world. I believe that Republicans and Democrats need to find common ground on our foreign policy to identify ways we can use enforcement of human rights provisions of the deal to ensure Iran is held accountable on their end of the agreement.

Another consequence of the Iran Deal that directly threatens Israel is the potential for expanded weapons transfers between Iran and Hezbollah. Iran already provides a significant amount of support for Hezbollah and without adequate monitoring they could access significantly stronger weapons. The Second Lebanon War wasn’t confined to Lebanon and it is fair to expect that an unfettered pipeline between Iran and Hezbollah will spark new conflicts that will impact Israel as well.

The best way to ensure accountability is through vigilant oversight. There is a real opportunity for friends of Israel on both ends of the political spectrum to make sure the provisions in place to protect America’s and Israel’s interests are actually honored. Vigilant oversight of the Iran deal’s provisions by Congress will be critical to limit the damage inflicted on our national security and international order.

I wrote a separate op-ed about my views on the Iran agreement that was printed in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.

Two-State Solution and Jerusalem

Peace in the Middle East region has been an elusive objective despite sincere efforts over countless generations to achieve that goal. Not only does Israel face external threats such as those described above from Iran, but internal conflicts with the Palestinians and conflicting claims over land and self-determination. Over time Israel has sacrificed what it has the least of, land, with no sincere partner for peace.

There are a few principles that must guide any long-term solution regarding the disposition of Palestinian people within the border of Israel. First, there must be some resolution with neighboring states regarding their intentions toward Israel. You can’t read any news from the Middle East without reading how this leader or that despot wants to “wipe Israel from the face of the Earth.” The United States is increasingly included in those threats. While these leaders dismiss this as content that is produced for domestic political consumption, blaming freedom-loving nation states for their own internal problems does nothing but help recruit the next wave of radical militants.

Above I discuss how challenging it is for the United States to maintain productive relationships with our allies when there is a lack of trust. Given that, it is impossible to promote peace in any region when states in that region are determined to destroy a partner in the peace process. Consider that the leader of the other potential state in question literally has a degree in Holocost denial: does Israel really have a realistic partner to work with? So long as the Palestinian leadership works consistently to groom extremists by blaming Israel for the suffering of the Palestinian people there is no foundation for peace.

Any real solution that does not incorporate a significant change in the foreign policy objectives of Israel’s neighbors or its leadership is doomed to failure. I support a two state solution contingent upon recognition of Israel by her neighbors and a regional effort among all nations in the Middle East working together to achieve those goals.

Another important point that must be resolved is the recognition by the United States of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Jerusalem is not only the political home of Israel but has been the spiritual home of the Jewish people for thousands of years. It has only been under their custodianship that people of all faiths have had access to spiritual sites and the freedom to worship at those locations.

Military and Domestic Assistance to Israel

As a partner and ally, Israel is a vital economic, political and military link to the Middle East. As such we need to do what we can to help provide resources Israel can use to defend against the real threat of rocket attacks as well as potential threats from any number of states in the region. While I hope that Israel never has to use our assistance to defend itself, we can best start down the path to peace by preparing for conflicts. Helping to secure Israel helps take military conflict off the table; this gives us more opportunities to pursue peaceful solutions in the region.

In addition to the foreign aid provided to Israel, Congress must continue to fund the plus ups in the defense appropriations bills for Israel’s missile defense program. Historically this funding has delivered a return for our nation through improving our military capabilities. Without Israeli innovations that came through our investment in their missile defense program we wouldn’t have access to the enhanced defense capabilities we use to protect against missile attacks.

In addition to the innovations in defense technology funded through our assistance, Israel is our only consistent ally in a volatile region. The value we receive from the quality of the human intelligence they are able to cultivate is a crucial complement to our signals intelligence capabilities. Without a reliable partner like Israel we would need to dramatically ramp up our own investment in the region to develop anything close to the valuable intelligence Israel provides us. As Iran is able to increase their military capabilities in light of the agreement discussed above, quality intelligence in this region is a vital resource.

Finally, the United States must do more to combat the effort of Israel’s enemies to utilize what has come to be referred to as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Senators Rob Portman and Ben Cardin introduced the United States-Israel Trade Enhancement Act to use ongoing negotiations with potential trade partners to discourage the spread of these practices. This legislation makes it clear to our trading partners that America stands with Israel and that we will not stand by while others use economic policy to harm our ally.

United Nations

The United Nations has become an increasingly irrelevant institution as its members consistently look beyond its walls for solutions to international conflicts. That said, while I disagree vehemently with any efforts by the United Nations to exert authority over our domestic policy in the United State, I do believe it can play a role in brokering peaceful solutions to international conflicts.

That said, it needs to take this role seriously. Engaging in overarching domestic policy programs and disrespecting member institutions is not a way to make progress toward advancing peace in the world. I believe that strategically Israel is a critical partner and standing up for their interests on the international diplomatic arena helps advance the cause of peace.

Unfortunately it seems the United Nations is more interested in finding creative ways to undermine one of its own member nations than addressing the root causes of international conflict. From insulting Israel by flying the Palestinian flag with those of other nations to using official organs like the United Nations Relief Agency to spread the hatred and vitriol that Palestinian leaders use to groom extremists, the UN has demonstrated no interest in actually addressing problems in the region and are in very tangible ways undermining any efforts that could help achieve a peaceful solution in the region.

Until the United Nations starts taking their role as a peace-maker seriously and stops trying to bully countries into submitting to their programs and agenda, the institution will never be able to achieve the goal for which it was originally chartered – promoting global peace and understanding.

Non-State Actors

My recent service in Afghanistan has helped me to appreciate the immense pressure our military is under with multiple missions and reduced personnel to achieve those missions. International terrorists like ISIS, Hamas and Hezbollah who do not respect normal conventions of diplomacy and treatment of prisoners do not deserve our respect.

I am proud to serve as a member of the U.S. Naval Reserves. Our navy was created specifically to protect trade from non-state actors committing acts of piracy – a function that it admirably performed particularly during periods where we were not formally at war. ISIS is the most glaring example of a non-state actor that endangers the health, safety and well-being of Americans overseas and our trade with other nations, and should be addressed decisively.

It is ludicrous that organizations like these are permitted to wage war with little to no resistance or international support for those why they attack like Israel. America’s refusal to take action here is creating opportunities for our geopolitical rivals like Russia and China to make advances into the Middle East and exert additional influence there. We’ve seen the “stability” that Russia has brought to the Crimean Peninsula and I have no interest in tolerating similar “peace-making” efforts in the Middle East.

Jim Banks is an Indiana State Senator representing portions of Grant, Huntington, Wells and Whitley Counties in northeast Indiana. He is an Afghanistan War veteran and an officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve who is currently running for the Republican nomination for Indiana’s Third Congressional District. He lives in Columbia City, Indiana with his wife Amanda and their three daughters.