Op-Ed by Myron Brilliant
The Hill | March 03, 2015
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The U.S.-Israel relationship has been under a microscope ahead of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington. While shared national security issues will continue to dominate the discussions between the governments – as they will on this trip – these issues are just a component of what drives the strong bonds between our two countries. One often overlooked facet of our relationship is the important strategic economic partnership.
The U.S. and Israel have long-standing trade and investment ties that serve to benefit both countries, and our close commercial bond supports game-changing innovation benefiting the global economy. Since the signing of the U.S.-Israel Free Trade Agreement 30 years ago, two-way trade has multiplied tenfold to over $40 billion per year with shared economic benefits for both countries.
In a country as small as Israel, it is amazing that over 250 multinational companies have R&D centers there. And underscoring the importance of our relationship, two-thirds of them are U.S. companies. Intel, Microsoft, IBM, and Cisco have been in Israel for decades, and just days ago, Apple CEO Tim Cook visited Israel to inaugurate the company’s largest innovation center outside of California.
Israel is the top importer of U.S. goods in its region, despite representing a mere 2 percent of the population. There are more companies listed on the NASDAQ exchange from Israel than from any country besides the U.S. and China. And nearly half of all investment into the U.S. from the Middle East comes from Israeli companies. The commercial relationship, while often glossed over given the focus on security matters, is not only sparking new technologies but supports thousands of good jobs in both countries.
It is also abundantly clear that there is a strong nexus between commercial and security matters. Just take a look at our growing collaboration in areas such as cybersecurity and energy.
Following major cyber breaches on public and private institutions across the world, we have a better understanding of the vulnerability of our companies and governments. With more than 10 percent of global cybersecurity investment going into Israel—including from U.S. investors—and Israel’s own establishment of a new cyber hub in Beersheva, we can already see the importance of our partnership in this area.
Israel’s energy sector is another example of the significance of our relationship. In 2009, U.S.-based Noble Energy discovered one of the largest deep-water natural gas reserves in the last decade and has been working with Israeli partners to develop and bring gas both to the Israeli market and the broader region. This development, if harnessed correctly, could ensure Israel’s energy independence and security for generations to come. Since Israel had a very limited energy industry prior to these finds, the U.S. is critical in helping to build out this sector. These areas and others will drive the coming years of cooperation between our two countries.
A look at our past and current relationship shows that stronger commercial and security ties have been and will continue to be mutually reinforcing. But we need to do a better job of embracing the full extent of U.S.-Israel relations. Much more can be done to ensure a healthy, prosperous, and growing relationship if we work hand in hand to expand our commercial ties.
Brilliant is executive vice president and head of International Affairs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.