Jonathan Lord

US Defense Bill Shows Bipartisan Israel Support

For the 63rd consecutive year, Congress has passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and sent it to the President’s desk for his signature. The Congressional committees of jurisdiction that proudly craft and dutifully shepherd this piece of legislation through its long and increasingly vestigial process of regular order, do so, steeped in a time-tested culture and belief in bipartisanship. While prevailing incentives drive most Republicans and Democrats further and further apart, the House and Senate Armed Services Committees remain vigilant stewards and increasingly rare practitioners of bipartisan compromise. In what may be one of the most partisan legislative sessions in US history, and against the backdrop of the highly-dramatic GOP House leadership crisis, the members and professional staffs of the HASC and SASC put their heads down, got to work, and once again, delivered a bipartisan product for the common defense of the American people, passing the Senate with 87 votes, and the House with 310. Their work is to be commended, and in the opinion of this author, studied and replicated by the rest of Congress. And because the NDAA’s contents are exhaustively debated by members and staff to ensure the bill achieves broad bipartisan, bicameral majorities, you can study its many provisions for insights into what politically, “the market will bear” among a majority of both Congressional Republicans and Democrats.

Reviewing the totality of the Middle East-related provisions in the Fiscal Year 2024 NDAA, one thing becomes abundantly clear: irrespective of the shrill and seemingly prevalent public sentiment that Israel is increasingly isolated, the Jewish State continues to enjoy broad bipartisan support in the US Congress. Let’s review the bidding.

Through nine distinct provisions in the bill, Congress:

  • extended the Pentagon’s authority to cooperate with Israel on anti-tunnel capabilities;
  • increased the annual funding cap for US-Israel cooperation to counter unmanned aerial vehicles from $40 million to $55 million;
  • authorized US cooperation with Israel to explore new, directed energy capabilities, the next technological frontier of air defense;
  • extended the authority for Israel to draw down weapons and munitions critical for its defense from the Israel-based, strategic US weapons cache War Reserve Stocks for Allies – Israel (WRSA-I);
  • directed the US Air Force to train Israeli pilots to operate the KC-46 aerial refueling tanker —
  • while also giving the President the authority to transfer said aerial refuellers to the Israeli air force, notwithstanding funding caps that govern weapons shipments to Israel in the Foreign Assistance Act;
  • requires the Pentagon to report to Congress on companies with large contracts at US military commissaries that have participated in the “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions” movement, which is also explicitly and plainly called antisemitic in the bill text;
  • directs the Secretary of Defense to develop a Middle East regional maritime domain awareness and interdiction capability that integrates Israel with US Central Command’s Arab partner nations, further endorsing and bolstering CENTCOM’s nascent and developing regional security architecture effort;
  • and authorizes $200 million for the Missile Defense Agency’s budget for Israel to spend on the US-Israeli co-produced air defense systems Iron Dome, David’s Sling, and Arrow 3.

The House and Senate began negotiating the final version of the NDAA at roughly the same time Hamas launched its devastating, Oct.7 attack on Israel. Those negotiations continued through the first two months of Israel’s campaign to defeat and destroy Hamas in Gaza. At the same time, a ferocious US foreign policy debate has been playing out in television media, street protests, college campuses, social media, and even possibly among White House interns, over US support to Israel. With efforts by some in the Senate to further condition military aid to Israel, coupled with recent polling indicating President Biden’s steadfast support for Israel may be costing him, particularly among younger Americans, one could reasonably expect broad Congressional support of Israel to soften. However, sifting through all the noise, the FY24 NDAA demonstrates clearly that a broad majority of Congressional Republicans and Democrats continue to strongly stand with Israel.

About the Author
Jonathan Lord is a senior fellow and the director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, a former staff member for the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, a former Iraq country director in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, and a former political military analyst in the Department of Defense.
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