The United States Senate unanimously adopted the United States – Israel Strategic Partnership Act late Thursday evening.
With over three-quarters of the Senate sponsoring the bill, Israel has been declared a “major strategic partner” of the US. Supporters of the bill hope that a new foundation seeking to expand US-Israel partnerships in defense, agriculture, energy and a number of other sectors will be laid.
The bipartisan legislation was authored by Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and had 81 co-sponsors out of a possible 100.
“America’s long-standing relationship and strong cooperation with Israel dates back to the presidency of fellow Missourian Harry S. Truman,” Blunt stated after the passing of the bill. “I’m pleased the Senate has passed the bipartisan bill to reaffirm and broaden the important US-Israel alliance through security, energy, and trade during this critical time in the Middle East region.”
The bill provides the US the ability to increase by $200 million the value of US weapons held in Israel. Thus far, the US stores weapons in Israel worth $1.8 billion. US weapons stockpiles in Israel have doubled in value over the last two years and are meant to allow the US to quickly resupply troops in the event of a crisis in the Middle East.
The weapons can be used by Israel in case of an emergency, with Israel reimbursing the US or restocking the supplies.
Known as War Reserves Stock Allies-Israel (WRSA-I), Israel last used the stockpile over Operation Protective Edge when the US allowed Israel to use 40mm grenades and 120mm mortar rounds.
Under pressure, the Obama administration imposed additional reviews and stopped the transfer of weapons to Israel during the conflict.
The bill also increases the amount of times the US government must report on Israel’s qualitative military edge as well as what details should be reported upon.
Aside from defense spending, the new legislation upgrades Israel’s trade status to expedite export licensing, authorize the president to provide assistance for joint projects in water, agriculture, alternative fuel technologies and homeland security, and creates new means for increased energy cooperation between Israel and the US, including the establishment of a US-Israel Center of Excellence in water and energy engineering.
The bill also included a carefully worded addendum encouraging the US to include Israel in the Visa Waiver Program. Israelis are not allowed to enter the US without securing a tourist visa, which has been a sore spot in Israel-US relations. Currently, some three dozen countries are part of the program.
Senator Boxer explained that the bill is “affirming Israel’s ability to participate in the visa waiver program as long as she meets the existing requirements.”