Election Year Inhibitions on Capitol Hill

Jeruslem Post, Opinion Section, October 15, 1992

 

The recent announcement of the transfer of $600-700 million worth of US combat helicopters, missiles and other advanced defense equipment to Israel and the pre-positioning in Israel of $200m worth of US defense items does not represent a truly new development. It is the fulfillment of legislation signed into law two years ago, in October 1990.

To be sure, the Bush Administration's promise to implement this legislation does demonstrate the improved atmosphere between the two governments.  It reflects the impact of the presidential, senatorial and congressional campaigns on the shape and atmosphere of US-Israel relations.

Not that the influence of Israel's own policies on the decision can be underestimated. But one must not ignore the central role played by US domestic politics: the unprecedented ebb in the popularity of President Bush; the growing significance of the Jewish electorate; the pressure exerted on the president by Republican legislators who are concerned lest they be adversely affected by the expected anti-Bush vote; the protests by Aipac and other pro-Israel Jewish and non-Jewish organizations; and the persistence displayed by legislators who are critical of the passage of other legislative items sought by the Administration.

The 1990 initiatives were the brainchild of Senators Bob Kasten (R-Wisconsin) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), who pushed these pieces of legislation in the face of determined attempts by President Bush to avoid implementing them.
Senators Kasten (the ranking member on the Appropriations Sub-Committee on Foreign Operations) and Inouye (the chairman of the Appropriations Sub-Committee on Defense) are major players on the Appropriations Committee, the most powerful committee on Capitol Hill.

They have also initiated - in defiance of President Bush - the $10 billion absorption loan guarantees, the $400m housing loan guarantees, the $650m (post-Gulf War) special security assistance to Israel, the early dispersal of the $1.8b annual military assistance to Israel and the $15m initial improvement of the Haifa port facilities, as well as the expansion of US-Israel strategic cooperation in the areas of smart weaponry, avionics, drug interdiction, counter-terrorism cooperation and a series of other bills benefiting both the US and Israel.

Both senators are members of a small family of legislators who do not treat Israel merely as a classic issue of foreign policy. Rather, they take a broader and a deeper view, one based on moral and strategic grounds and on the lessons of the Holocaust, and the 1948, 1967 and 1973 wars.

Both are fighting for their political lives in the coming November election. A record number of 18 new senators and more than 150 new house members may be elected in November. Senator Kasten is considered one of the most vulnerable incumbents. The political fortunes of Kasten, Inouye and their colleagues will immensely affect the overall atmosphere on Capitol Hill, the scope of US-Israel cooperation, and the ability of a future administration to exert pressure on an Israeli government resisting withdrawal to the 1967 lines.