US lawmakers unanimously pass Israel strategic partnership bill
WASHINGTON - US lawmakers voted unanimously Wednesday to pass legislation making Israel a "major strategic partner" of the United States, deepening a bilateral bond that has recently shown signs of strain.
In a voice vote, the House approved the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014, which expands cooperation in defense and security, energy, research and development, business, agriculture, water management and academics.
The measure reflects "the sense of Congress that Israel is a major strategic partner of the United States," and declares Washington's "unwavering support" for Israel as a Jewish state.
The bill, which passed the Senate unanimously in September, now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature.
The legislation would expand the US weapons stockpile in Israel by some $200 million in value, to a total of $1.8 billion, so that the Pentagon can be better prepared to conduct military operations in the volatile Middle East.
It also crucially allows Israel to use the weapons in the event of an emergency, as it did this summer during its operation "Protective Edge" in Gaza.
Earlier this year Congress dramatically increased US funding for Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system, to $351 million for fiscal year 2015 from $235 million the previous year.
"Israel is a bright light in a very, very dark region," veteran Democrat Eliot Engel said on the House floor shortly before the vote.
He noted how the bill was aimed in part at helping Israel maintain a "qualitative military edge" over its adversaries.
"We must always be working to ensure that our support for Israel keeps pace with the threats proliferating against the country -- from Iran to Hamas," House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce added in a statement.
The legislation also requires the Obama administration to move toward allowing Israel to be included in the top-tier category for license-free exports of certain US technologies and products, and it places Israel on the US list of countries that participate in the visa waiver program.