On October 15, 2008, just three weeks before the US presidential election, George Bush signed into law the Naval Vessel Transfer Act which had been sponsored by one of Israel’s most loyal supporters in the US Congress, Rep. Howard Berman.
The new law, which from its title might have been assumed to relate primarily to the sale of ships from the US Navy to foreign governments, actually had a much more important purpose: to place every American president under a legal obligation to ensure that Israel maintains its military dominance over the Middle East.
What had previously been a matter of foreign policy, suddenly became law — law written to meet the interests of a foreign government.
Israel’s regional hegemony is legally enshrined in the concept of Israel’s “Qualitative Military Edge” (QME). The US Government must now guarantee that “the sale or export of the defense articles or defense services will not adversely affect Israel’s qualitative military edge over military threats to Israel.”
The law states:
[T]he term ‘qualitative military edge’ means the ability to counter and defeat any credible conventional military threat from any individual state or possible coalition of states or from non-state actors, while sustaining minimal damages and casualties, through the use of superior military means, possessed in sufficient quantity, including weapons, command, control, communication, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities that in their technical characteristics are superior in capability to those of such other individual or possible coalition of states or non-state actors. [Emphasis mine.]
Andrew J Shapiro is the Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs. One of his primary responsibilities is to ensure that Israel maintains its qualitative military edge. Does he serve the US government or the Israeli government? It’s far from clear.
This is how he presented the United States’ obligation to serve Israel’s interests in a speech he delivered at the Brookings Institute in Washington on Friday:
For decades, the cornerstone of our security commitment to Israel has been an assurance that the United States would help Israel uphold its qualitative military edge — a commitment that was written into law in 2008. Israel’s QME is its ability to counter and defeat credible military threats from any individual state, coalition of states, or non-state actor, while sustaining minimal damages or casualties. The Obama Administration has demonstrated its commitment to Israel’s QME by not only sustaining and building upon practices established by prior administrations, but also undertaking new initiatives to make our security relationship more intimate than ever before.
Each and every security assistance request from the Israeli Government is evaluated in light of our policy to uphold Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge. At the same time, QME considerations extend to our decisions on defense cooperation with all other governments in the region. This means that as a matter of policy, we will not proceed with any release of military equipment or services that may pose a risk to allies or contribute to regional insecurity in the Middle East.
The primary tool that the United States uses to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge is security assistance. For some three decades, Israel has been the leading beneficiary of U.S. security assistance through the Foreign Military Financing program, or FMF. Currently, Israel receives almost $3 billion per year in U.S. funding for training and equipment under FMF. The total FMF account is $5 billion annually and is distributed among some 70 countries. So it is a testament to our special security relationship that each year Israel accounts for just over 50 percent of U.S. security assistance funding distributed through FMF.
The Obama Administration is proud to carry on the legacy of robust U.S. security assistance for Israel. Indeed, we are carrying this legacy to new heights at a time when Israel needs our support to address the multifaceted threats it faces.
For Fiscal Year 2010, the Administration requested $2.775 billion in security assistance funding specifically for Israel, the largest such request in U.S. history. Congress fully funded our request for FY 2010, and we have requested even more — $3.0 billion — for FY 2011. These requests fulfill the Administration’s commitment to implementing the 2007 memorandum of understanding with Israel to provide $30 billion in security assistance over 10 years.
This commitment directly supports Israel’s security, as it allows Israel to purchase the sophisticated defense equipment it needs to protect itself, deter aggressors, and maintain its qualitative military edge. Today, I can assure you that — even in challenging budgetary times — this Administration will continue to honor this 10-year, $30 billion commitment in future fiscal years. [Emphasis mine.]
Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin challenged Shapiro during Q&A:
[I]t pains me to hear you sound more like an agent of the Israeli government than a U.S. representative because as you travel around the world you see that this “special relationship” really endangers us, makes us more hated around the world. So I wonder if you would be willing to step in other shoes and go to Gaza, see the results of the Israeli invasion there, see the destruction, talk to people in Gaza, talk to the elected government, which is Hamas. You don’t have to like them to talk to them. I also wonder if you’ve spent any time with people in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to see what it feels like for Palestinians, the daily humiliations they suffer.
And I also wonder, given the financial crisis here at home and the great needs of impoverished nations around the world, couldn’t you think of a better use of $3 billion than giving it to a wealthy country like Israel that is abusing the human rights of Palestinians on a daily basis?
Benjamin drew a round of applause — Shapiro declined to respond directly to her challenge.
As Shapiro noted, the concept of Israel’s QME has been in use for decades, but it was only when the Bush administration let Israel draft American law, that QME turned into a license to use force with impunity.
In January 2008, William Wunderle, a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, and Andre Briere, a U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, wrote in a paper for The Washington Institute for Near East Policy:
The US commitment to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME) is a long-standing tradition that every president since Lyndon Johnson has maintained and reiterated. The basic principle behind this commitment is simple: Israel is a bastion of liberal representative government in the Middle East, and, as such, its continued survival is a vital national interest of the United States. To ensure this longtime ally’s continued existence in a sea of nations that reflexively call for its destruction, Israel must be able to defend itself militarily and deter potential aggression. In this effort, Israel will always be militarily outnumbered with regard to the artillery, tanks, and combat aircraft that can be deployed by a coalition of Arab states. Israel’s continued survival can be ensured only if it is able to maintain qualitative military superiority, relying on superior weaponry, tactics, training, leadership, and other factors of military effectiveness to deter or defeat its numerically superior adversaries in the Middle East.
In other words, the US policy advocated that Israel should be able to counter a quantitative disadvantage with a qualitative advantage. It said nothing about supporting Israel’s use of that advantage at minimal cost. The expression after all was qualitative military edge — not supremacy.
These analysts noted however that:
Israel defines QME as “the ability to sustain credible military advantage that provides deterrence and, if need be, the ability to rapidly achieve superiority on the battlefield against any foreseeable combination of forces with minimal damage and casualties.”
The Israeli phrasing went straight into US law which says that Israel must maintain the ability to use military force “while sustaining minimal damages and casualties.”
Let’s put that in context. The law was signed just two years after Israel had visibly lost its qualitative military edge in Lebanon in 2006 when it faced Hezbollah, and less than three months before it used the assault on Gaza to once again demonstrate its ability to wreak massive destruction while sustaining minimal damages and casualties.
The war on Gaza, which President-elect Obama watched in silence, showed not merely the brutality that Israel is willing to use under America’s political protection, but the extent to which Israel’s military agenda is empowered through its ability to control the United States Government.
The war on Gaza was QME in action.