"Israel has become an American economic interest, beyond the basis of cooperation of common values and democracy. This has important strategic consequences," Israel's Ambassador to the US Michael Oren told "Globes" yesterday.
After keeping a low media profile for months, in order to keep out of the US presidential elections campaign, Oren spoke about US-Israeli relations, with a focus on the close strategic bilateral relations during President Barack Obama's first term. Oren cautioned, however, that this close relationship was one of the few issues on which Democrats and Republicans agreed in both Houses of Congress.
The US-Israeli alliance has always been based on values, democracy, and common strategic interests," said Oren. "But now there is another foundation: the economic and commercial ties between the two countries, which are growing at a dizzying pace. In the past 20 years, bilateral trade has increased 350%. Almost every large US high-tech company has activity in Israel. Almost monthly, a new Israeli enterprise is opened in the US. Just last month, Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. (IAI) (TASE: ARSP.B1) division Elta Systems inaugurated a plant in Maryland."
Oren continued, "At a time when the US is outsourcing countless jobs to China, Israel is outsourcing to the US. Many American workers are employed at enterprises of Israeli companies there."
Oren added that Israel was the US 20th largest export destination, ahead of Russia, Argentina, Spain, and Ireland. Not to be forgotten is that Israel is ranked third in the number of companies traded on Nasdaq, after the US and China.
"There is no question that Israel has become a US economic interest, and one of the strategic repercussions of this development is that the US agreed to extend the loan guarantees last month," said Oren, adding that the strategic alliance between the US and Israel was deeper and more varied than US alliances with other countries, even the UK. "At least in terms of intelligence, I say this with the fullest authority, as a man who is familiar with the contacts between the two countries," he said.
Oren dismissed reports in the Israeli media about poor relations between Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "Obama says that he has spent more time with Netanyahu than with any other world leader. I was present at all of these meetings, and I can testify that they were all open and friendly. There have been disagreements between the US and Israel in the past, but they have been greatly reduced now," said Oren.
"We haven’t always agreed with the administration. Early in Obama's term, there were disagreements over the peace process. The president demanded concessions from Israel on the settlements in the hope that the Palestinians would make corresponding concessions. The prime minister ordered the construction freeze for ten months, but the Palestinians made no corresponding concession, and the administration did not focus on this issue again. Today, there are no differences between the US and Israel over the settlements or Jerusalem, and although the Obama administration isn't enthusiastic about the settlements, it doesn’t put them at the top of the agenda. At the same time, the two countries are determined to prevent a unilateral Palestinian move in the UN."
Oren also said that the administration's position on Iran has gradually evolved. Early Obama's term, in January-November 2009, the administration pushed for talks with Tehran. After two months of extensions, in January 2010, the administration supported sanctions, which won Congressional support. The sanctions came into effect in June 2010, and they have subsequently been tightened. At the same time, the administration's statements about Iran have become tougher. At first, it said that a nuclear Iran was unacceptable to the US. It later said that the president was determined to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear arms. The president later began to say that all the options were on the table. Oren says that this wording has been accepted by Israel.
Oren said that, following talks between Obama and Netanyahu, and between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Netanyahu, after Netanyahu's speech at the UN General Assembly in September, the differences between the US and Israel about Iran greatly narrowed. Oren said that US-Israeli discussions now focus on one of the key points Netanyahu made at the UN: when would it no longer be possible to stop an Iranian nuclear weapon?
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on November 8, 2012
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