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JERUSALEM — Relations between the American and Israeli administrations were strained during much of President Obama's first term in office, but the tensions rarely affected military relations between the two countries, which are as firm as ever, experts say.
Which is why President Obama was taken to see an Iron Dome missile-defense battery almost as soon as his welcoming ceremony concluded.
Military cooperation "has never been so close. It's excellent," said Dan Schueftan, director of the National Security Study Center at Haifa University and a visiting professor at Georgetown.
Schueftan said that from joint military exercises to technological sharing, the United States is often on the receiving end of Israeli inventions.
"Israel has developed the most advanced anti-ballistic system in the world, thanks to Israeli innovation and U.S. cooperation and funding. Israel then shares that technology with the American military," which utilizes it in its own conflicts.
In a news conference late Wednesday, Obama said the American commitment to the security of Israel is a "solemn obligation."
"Today, our military and intelligence personnel cooperate more closely than ever before," Obama said. "We are providing more security assistance and technology to Israel than ever before."
Obama referred to his actions to extend a 10-year military agreement with Israel, his push for more funding for the Iron Dome and military aid of $200 million "to preserve Israel's qualitative military edge."
Obama said the military ties are as important to the USA's security as they are to Israel's. He said the United States must help Israel prevent the Gaza terror group Hamas from rearming and ensure Hezbollah in Lebanon cannot threaten the country.
"We consider Israel's security as extraordinarily important to us," Obama said.
Accompanied by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyhau and Israel's top military brass, Obama watched a simulation of the Iron Dome, which was developed in Israel with partial U.S. funding. The system intercepted hundreds of rockets fired by Palestinian terrorists from Gaza in November.
Marin van Creveld, a professor emeritus of military history and strategy at the Hebrew University, said the United States began to provide Israel with weaponry starting in the 1960s during the Cold War.
"Israel became an American proxy, and the Arab countries were the proxies of the Soviet Union," he said.
Over time, Israel's aid package from the United States became more military than humanitarian until Israel, once a struggling country, no longer needed aid for civilian purposes.
Uzi Rubin, the former director of the Israel Defense Organization, the body responsible for developing Israel's missile systems, explained that almost all of the $3 billion in foreign aid Israel receives annually from the United States must be spent on products produced by the American defense industry.
"It's like a coupon that can only be used for the U.S. defense system," Rubin, a researcher at the BESA Center, said, adding that the United States provides Israel with a much smaller budget to develop weapons systems at home.
Decades ago, Israel, a high-tech powerhouse, began modernizing the aging tanks and aircraft it had inherited or captured when it had little money to purchase weaponry and few countries willing to supply it.
"When Israel captured Soviet tanks from the Arabs, it shared them with the U.S.," van Creveld said. "When a MiG-21 pilot defected from Iraq to Israel, it provided the first Western look at the aircraft."
After Egypt attacked Israel during a war in 1973, "American generals came to Israel and spent weeks going over every Soviet tank" Israel captured, "not for the technology but to see which weapons damaged them."
This close cooperation continues to serve both U.S and Israeli interests, even when the two countries don't see eye-to-eye, experts say. Rubin said the United States "gains Israeli technology, and Israel gains a sense of security."
Standing beside Netanyahu during the news conference Wednesday, Obama said he wanted Israel to know "we have your back."
The stance for Israel is important to Middle East peace, Rubin said. While Israel is deeply concerned about the Iranian nuclear threat and instability in Egypt and Syria, that message means "Israel doesn't feel compelled to do things that could precipitate crisis situations," Rubin said.