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Is Pentagon’s ‘Security Cooperation’ Office Too Cooperative With Israel?

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Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby says the department is "constantly assessing" how it handles arms sales to Israel. Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby says the department is "constantly assessing" how it handles arms sales to Israel. DOD photo by Glenn Fawcett

A recent Wall Street Journal front-pager with a provocative headline “Israel Outflanks White House” threw limelight on a little known office within the Pentagon.

With combat raging in Gaza between Hamas and Israeli troops, the newspaper reported complaints from the State Department and the White House that the Pentagon was bypassing them in rushing arms to the embattled U.S. ally at a time when Secretary of State John Kerry was hoping to use the missiles and ammunition as leverage in seeking a ceasefire.

“The Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency, or DSCA, was about to release an initial batch of the Hellfires, according to Israeli and congressional officials,” the Jerusalem-based reporter wrote. “It was immediately put on hold by the Pentagon, and top officials at the White House instructed the DSCA, the U.S. military's European Command and other agencies to consult with policy makers at the White House and the State Department before approving any additional requests.”

The Defense Security Cooperation Agency, run by Vice Adm. Joseph Rixey, is tasked, according to its mission statement, to “lead, resource, and educate the Defense Security Cooperation community to shape, refine, and execute innovative security solutions for partners in support of U.S. interests.”

Rixey declined a request from Government Executive for an interview, but soon after the Journal story appeared, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby was asked about the arms sales at a presser and displayed some reluctance to broach the politically sensitive topic.

A reporter asked, “Does the Pentagon now need White House or State Department approval for military-to-military sales to Israel? They say they were blindsided by some of this and caught off-guard.”

Kirby’s reply: “Yeah, look, I'll just say that the process -- there is an existing process for handling arm sales to Israel. It's a process that we're constantly looking at, constantly assessing, certainly in light of the much-increased operational tempo that the Israeli Defense Force is under now, as they defend themselves from Hamas. It warrants -- that process continues to warrant assessment and review. And I think I'd leave it at that.”

As if to accentuate the political risks, the Wall Street Journal on Friday published three letters to the editor, all critical of what they see as the Obama administration’s lukewarm support for Israel, arguing, “Our allies shouldn’t have to outflank the White House.”

Charlie Clark joined Government Executive in the fall of 2009. He has been on staff at The Washington Post, Congressional Quarterly, National Journal, Time-Life Books, Tax Analysts, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, and the National Center on Education and the Economy. He has written or edited online news, daily news stories, long features, wire copy, magazines, books and organizational media strategies.

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