TEL AVIV, Israel — Regardless of how Congress votes on the controversial Iranian nuclear deal, Sen. Tom Cotton said most members are committed to significantly strengthening Israeli security, including providing billions of dollars in additional annual aid and B-1 bunker busting bombers.
In an interview here Wednesday, the junior senator from Arkansas, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and chairman of the Armed Services Air Land Power subcommittee, said he discussed with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon what Israel will need to preserve its so-called qualitative military edge (QME), particularly in light of what he insists are the added dangers stemming from the deal struck between Iran and world powers.
“Most members are 100 percent committed to maintaining Israel’s QME,” the Republican told Defense News. “This deal is fundamentally flawed because it allows Iran to keep and expand a vast nuclear infrastructure while, at the same time, does nothing to stop Iran’s regional aggression.”
Beyond deeper strategic cooperation and intelligence coordination, Cotton said he supports a significant hike in annual Foreign Military Financing (FMF) grant aid to Israel above the $3.1 billion levels set to expire in fiscal 2018.
“Of course, it depends in large part on strategic assessments, but I’d be open” to levels as high as $5 billion, he said.
According to Cotton, FMF to Israel, the Egyptian government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan promote stability and order in a terror-wracked region.
“In my view, an increase [to Israel] would be eminently reasonable, despite the budget constraints we face in Washington. Our FMF program has not done anything to increase our budget deficit. That’s due to excessive spending and slow economic growth due to the flawed economic policies of this administration,” he said.
As for equipping Israel with the 30,000-pound massive ordnance penetrator bunker-busting weapon and the means to deliver it, Cotton said that if Israel requests the B-1B rather than the much older and more vulnerable B-52, Congress should authorize it.
And despite the fact that the US has never authorized its bombers for export, Cotton said Israel is an exceptional case given the myriad threats it faces in the region.
“Whether it's B-52 or B-1, we know Israel’s military would need to expand its infrastructure. There are real questions about long-term life-cycle costs of a long-range bomber and whether that’s an investment Israel wants to make. But if Israel requests it, I’d be favorably disposed.”
With US President Barack Obama now having secured enough Senate support to ensure US adherence to the nuclear deal struck with Iran, Cotton said detailed congressional work on enhanced security measures for Israel would have to wait until after the fateful vote in Congress.
“We will have plenty of time for those conversations after the vote occurs,” he said. “Right now, I and several other leaders are 100 percent focused on the vote in Congress.”