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Israel: Background and U.S. Relations


Jim Zanotti

Congressional Research Service Report RL33476

Since  1948, successive U.S. Presidents and many Members of Congress have demonstrated a commitment to Israel’s security and to maintaining close U.S.-Israel defense, diplomatic, and economic cooperation. U.S. and Israeli leaders have developed close relations based on common perceptions of shared democratic values and religious affinities. U.S. policy makers often seek to determine how events and U.S. policy choices in the Middle East may affect Israel’s security, and Congress provides active oversight of executive branch dealings with Israel and other actors in the region. Some analysts criticize what they perceive as U.S. support for Israel without sufficient scrutiny of its actions or their implications for U.S. Interests.

Israel is a leading recipient of U.S. foreign aid and is a frequent purchaser of major U.S. weapons systems. The United States and Israel maintain close security cooperation— predicated on a U.S. commitment and legal requirement to maintain Israel’s “qualitative military edge” over other countries in its region. The two countries signed a free trade agreement in 1985, and the United States is Israel’s largest trading partner. Israel has many regional security concerns. By criticizing the international interim agreement on Iran’s nuclear program that went into effect in January 2014, Prime Minister Netanyahu may seek to give Israel a voice in an ongoing negotiating process in which it does not directly participate. In addition to concerns over Iran, Israel’s perceptions of security around its borders have changed since early 2011 as several surrounding Arab countries have experienced political upheaval. Israel has shown particular concern about threats from Hezbollah and other non-state groups in ungoverned or minimally governed areas in Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, as well as from Hamas and other Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

Recent  exploitation of offshore natural gas raise the prospect of a more energy-independent future. Israel’s demographic profile has evolved in a way that appears to be affecting its political orientation, with various leaders vying for the public’s support by interweaving ideology with ethnic, religious, socioeconomic, and national security considerations.