By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Defense cooperation between the U.S. and Israel is already close, and it will get closer as both countries face the threats of the future, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said today.
Panetta spoke to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee here and said the United States and Israel will work closely together in the face of the dangers that confront both countries.
The security bonds between Israel and the United States will only grow as America goes through a historic turning point after a decade of war, " he said.
In fact, defense cooperation will grow even with U.S. defense budget reductions. Panetta delivered an ironclad pledge " that the United States will provide whatever support is necessary so Israel maintains military superiority over any state or coalition of states, as well as non-state actors, in the region.
Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged wars against it, " he said. The Israeli people have been subjected to rocket attacks, to terrorism, and they live in a world where larger nations have threatened to wipe them off the map. "
Supporting Israel is the right thing to do and isin America`s best interests, Panetta said.
We have no better ally in this critical region of the world, " he said. A strong Israel deters potential aggressors. A strong Israel sends a message to the region and to the world that America will not waver in defense of our allies. "
The U.S. has increased security assistance to Israel substantially. This year, the budget calls for $31 billion in assistance to the nation, up from $2.5 billion in fiscal 2009.
This is part of a 10-year, $30 billion commitment to Israel`s security, " Panetta said. Over and above this commitment, the President has committed more than $650 million in DOD funding for Israeli missile defense. "
The U.S. is working with Israel to develop an anti-missile system to address the threat from all levels. The system will deal with short-range defense to counter the continued threat of rocket barrages from Gaza. The United States provided more than $200 million for the Iron Dome rocket defense system.
Iron Dome is fielded, it is operational, and this new system has already saved the lives of Israeli civilians with over 30 real world successful hit-to-kill intercepts in 2011, " Panetta said.
The two nations are also working on medium range missile defense, developing David`s Sling, and upper tier ballistic missile defense with the Arrow-3 system.
We are also working to upgrade Israel`s Patriot missile system and batteries, " he said. We are committed to moving forward with all of these systems and more -- because as the Prime Minister told me -- these missile shields do not start wars, they prevent wars. "
The secretary noted the Israeli air force will receive the world`s most sophisticated warplane -- the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
The F-35 is the future of tactical aviation for the United States military, and providing Israel with this advanced fighter makes it the only country in the Middle East with a true fifth-generation fighter capacity, upholding Israel`s edge not just now but for many years to come, " the secretary said.
The two militaries will not only share equipment, but also operational concepts. U.S. and Israeli service members will build greater capability and improve partnership through realistic exercises, joint training and personnel exchanges, Panetta said.
Each year, U.S. and Israeli forces take part in numerous exercises, " he said. One example is missile defense exercise Austere Challenge that this year will include more than 3,000 U.S. troops.
This kind of cooperation is mutually beneficial to both the United States and Israel. It has made both of our militaries stronger, " Panetta said.
The secretary pointed out that cooperation is not just a one-way street. It was an Israeli company that met the call to help protect American soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan by surging production of up-armor kits for Humvees and mine-resistant vehicles.
The kits were made in an Israeli kibbutz, and they saved the lives of our men and women in uniform, " Panetta said.
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