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U.S.-Israel Strategic Cooperation: Interparliamentary Commission on National Security

(September 17, 1998)

The relationship between the United States and Israel is strategic in the term’s deepest sense. It transcends shared military interests, as important as these are for both countries. The two countries’ essential bonds are philosophical commonly held convictions about the worth and rights of individual human beings, the ideas on which our respective democratic political institutions stand. This is the soundest basis for enduring international friendship and the best guarantee the two countries’ interests will harmonize when major challenges confront them.

The U.S.-Israeli Interparliamentary Commission

Few states are linked together, people-to-people, as intimately as are Israel and the United States. So it is fitting that their democratically elected representatives should be engaged in formal dialogue regarding issues of the greatest common concern. Accordingly, we have created the U.S.-Israeli Interparliamentary Commission on National Security, the first joint institution ever of the Congress and Knesset. The Commission is nonpartisan in both countries.

The Commission’s first meeting was convened in Washington, D.C. to address the danger of ballistic missiles in the hands of "rogue" and other hostile states. To this end, the Commission organized the first-ever joint legislative hearing of the House, Senate and Knesset, which took place on Monday, September 1-4, 1998. The hearing included testimony from the commander of the Patriot batteries in Israel during the Gulf War, and from American and Israeli families who lost loved ones or their homes to Iraqi SCUD missiles during that war.

Over the last four days, the Commission generated a series of substantive discussions among the Israeli and American legislators on missile threats, defense programs, strategy and related subjects.

The visiting Israeli Members of Knesset received classified briefings at the Pentagon, held discussions with officials at the State Department and participated in a site visit to the naval base at Norfolk, Virginia where they toured an Aegis guided missile cruiser. They were provided detailed information, in particular, on U.S. Army and Navy theater ballistic missile defense programs. They met and exchanged views also with non-governmental experts in the field, including members of the Rumsfeld Commission.


The Commission participants agreed that the threat of ballistic missiles to the United States and Israel has grown more intense as a result of recent events: in particular, the August 31 test by, North Korea of the Taepo-Dong 1 missile and the July 22 test by Iran of the Shahab 3 missile. The Commission found:

  1. With the Cold War’s end, longstanding expectations — "rules of the road" —regarding international affairs have been overtaken by the rise of aggressive regional powers hostile to the West and active in pursuit of nonconventional weapons and missiles to deliver them. This requires countries like the United States and Israel to reconsider venerable assumptions regarding strategy, diplomacy and international law, There is a need for updated rules of the road and the political will on the part of governments of responsible powers to enforce such rules. The flouting of international norms by states such as Iran, Iraq, Syria and North Korea represents a dangerous challenge to world order.

  2. In particular, the missile threat from hostile states is grave, immediate and growing more serious over time. It is in the interests of both countries to deploy effective defenses against this threat.

  3. These states already have missiles and among them chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs that threaten U.S. forces in the Middle East (and elsewhere) and U.S. allies and friends, including Israel, Turkey, Jordan, South Korea and Japan.

  4. Hostile states are investing in programs to improve the range, accuracy, reliability and penetrability of their missiles and to develop additional weapons of mass destruction including nuclear weapons. The time lines for such programs are short and within a few years such states will enhance substantially their capabilities in this field. Our intelligence agencies may not be able to ensure enough warning time of threatening developments regarding missiles and non-conventional weapons to allow our policy makers, in a timely fashion, to deploy necessary defenses.

  5. To deal properly with these threats, a range of measures is necessary, including (i) military capability to deter and to punish aggression, (ii) sensible international cooperation to restrict the flow of technology and goods that might contribute to the development in hostile countries of missiles and weapons of mass destruction and (iii) systems that can be relied upon to intercept ballistic missiles.

  6. There are affordable technologies and programs under development to defend against theater ballistic missiles. The threat from such missiles, however, is developing more rapidly than are the programs to build missile defenses.

  7. The gap between the maturity of theater missile threats and the maturity of defense systems subjects our countries to serious risk. It is in the interests of the United States and Israel to narrow that gap as completely and as quickly as possible. Arrow is helping to narrow the gap, but unless higher priority and greater urgency attach to our missile defense efforts generally, the gap is more likely to widen than close.

  8. Accelerating the development and deployment of theater missile defense programs of either country serves the common interest in peace, security, deterrence and defense.

  9. U.S.-Israeli cooperation in all aspects of missile defense has borne fruit. The jointly-funded and -developed Arrow missile defense system is scheduled for deployment in 1999. The most recent test of the Arrow, conducted earlier this week, was a success. Continued U.S. support for Arrow is of great importance to both countries. A relatively small investment has been made by the two countries in a joint project ("IBIS") on boost-phase interception of ballistic missiles. Another relatively small investment has been made in a joint project ("THEL") to use lasers to defend against rockets. Important work has been done by the United States and Israel to ensure interoperability of U.S. missile defense systems, including for early warning, and Israeli systems.

  10. The United States and Israel have a strong common interest in additional and expanded cooperation between them in the missile defense field. Both countries have something to gain from sharing technology, operational concepts and the fruits of actual experience in confronting missile threats and attacks.

  11. The key to effective protection against missiles is multiple layers of defense that permit a defender, if necessary, to get multiple shots at intercepting a given missile. Accordingly, it would be valuable for our two countries to intensify efforts — jointly or separately — to develop the capability to intercept missiles in the boost (or ascent) phase. Boost-phase interception ("BPI") is advantageous for it targets missiles at the beginning of the trajectory, before they can deploy any multiple warheads, Early interception of a missile could cause debris to fall on the attacker, not the defender, thereby contributing to the deterrence and punishment of aggression. Deployment of an effective BPI system would free other defense systems — those designed to intercept missiles in mid-course or in the descent phase (e.g., the Israeli Arrow) — to target only those warheads that managed to get through the BPI layer o f defense.

  12. The threat posed by missiles and weapons of mass destruction in the hands of rogue states is a danger not only to Israel and the United States. It is in the interest of all responsible states to cooperate in countering and defending against this threat. Israel and the United States should work to enlist from other countries, such as Turkey and Jordan, appropriate types of cooperation in the field of missile defense.

Special Remarks

The U.S. participants congratulated Israel on the success of the Arrow full-system test conducted on Monday, September 14, 1998.

The Israeli participants thanked the United States for the financial support and cooperation that has made the Arrow program possible and helped ensure its success.

The participants of both countries made a special point of highlighting the importance of the Arrow system and the countries’ common interest in continued U.S. support for Arrow.

Next Steps

The Commission is exploring legislative initiatives consistent with its findings, set forth in the attachment to this statement.

The Commission intends to meet again in December 1998 in Israel. Missile defense will remain the chief topic for the December meeting. The participants agreed to explore certain questions with their respective defense ministries on this subject in preparation for the December meeting.

In the future, the Commission will address other national security topics of importance to the two countries.

Sources: Senator Jon Kyl