Report to Congress on Israel and U.S. Relations

The following is the Aug. 15, 2023, Congressional Research Service report, Israel: Major Issues and U.S. Relations.

From the report

Israel has forged close bilateral cooperation with the United States in many areas. A 10-year bilateral military aid memorandum of understanding commits the United States to provide Israel $3.3 billion in Foreign Military Financing and to spend $500 million annually on joint missile defense programs from FY2019 to FY2028, subject to congressional appropriations. Some Members of Congress have increased their scrutiny over Israel’s use of U.S. security assistance, contributing to debate on the subject. This report also discusses the following matters:

Netanyahu government and controversy over judicial system changes. In December 2022, Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu became prime minister of a new coalition government, despite facing an ongoing criminal trial for corruption. Netanyahu’s inclusion of ultra-nationalists Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir within the new Israeli government has triggered debate about the consequences for Israel’s democracy, its ability to manage tensions with Palestinians, and its relations with the United States. The government has proposed legislation to overhaul Israel’s judicial system. Despite major domestic controversy over whether changes—or responses to them—might impact checks and balances, cohesion, and military readiness, and efforts by President Biden to encourage compromise, the coalition passed a law in July 2023 to prevent Israeli courts from using a “reasonableness” standard to invalidate government actions. Israel’s High Court of Justice plans to hear arguments challenging the legislation in September, raising the possibility of a constitutional crisis. The government may consider additional legislation that could modify how judges are selected, though Netanyahu has stated openness to dialogue with the opposition into November.

Israeli-Palestinian issues. In hopes of preserving the viability of a negotiated two-state solution among Israelis and Palestinians, Biden Administration officials have sought to help manage tensions, bolster Israel’s defensive capabilities, and strengthen U.S.-Palestinian ties that frayed during the Trump Administration. Administration officials have regularly spoken out against steps taken by Israelis or Palestinians that could risk sparking violence and undermining the vision of two states—including settlement expansion, legalization of outposts, demolitions and evictions, disruptions to the historic status quo of Jerusalem’s holy sites, and incitement and acquiescence to violence. Since 2022, Israeli-Palestinian violence has triggered heightened West Bank counterterrorism measures. As the Gaza Strip remains under the control of the Sunni Islamist militant group Hamas (a U.S.-designated terrorist organization), the United States and other international actors face significant challenges in seeking to help with reconstruction without bolstering the group.

The Abraham Accords and possible Israeli normalization with Saudi Arabia. The Biden Administration has followed agreements reached during the Trump Administration that normalized or improved relations between Israel and four Arab or Muslim-majority states—the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco. Biden Administration officials have said that any further U.S. efforts to assist Israeli normalization with Muslim-majority countries would seek to preserve the viability of a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Ongoing efforts to deepen security and economic ties between Israel, the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco could drive broader regional cooperation—including on various types of defense. After China helped broker diplomatic normalization between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the Administration has declared that Israeli normalization with Saudi Arabia is a U.S. priority. Any negotiations toward that end would likely consider Saudi security and civilian nuclear demands, as well as a pathway toward a two-state solution. Congress has passed and proposed legislation encouraging expanded and deepened regional cooperation involving Israel.

Countering Iran and other regional dynamics. Israeli officials seek to counter Iranian regional influence and prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Israel supported President Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from the 2015 international agreement that constrained Iran’s nuclear activities. Israeli leaders seek greater international pressure on Iran amid questions about the tenor of U.S.-Israel cooperation on Iran-related issues. Israel also has reportedly conducted a number of covert or military operations against Iran and its allies in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq for various purposes, including to prevent Lebanese Hezbollah from bolstering its weapons arsenal and capabilities. Some reports suggest the future possibility of an informal, unwritten U.S.-Iran understanding by which Iran might limit some uranium enrichment and receive some financial relief for humanitarian purposes, raising questions about how Israel might respond to such a deal.

Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine. In the wake of Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Israel has sought to provide political support for Ukraine and humanitarian relief for Ukrainians without alienating Russia. Israel has shown reluctance to provide lethal assistance to Ukraine—citing the need to deconflict its military operations over Syria with Russia. However, Israel is reportedly providing or planning to provide Ukraine with basic intelligence, assistance with early warning systems, and anti-drone jamming systems to counter Iran-made drones and missiles used by Russia.

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