Jun 17, 2022 - World

Exclusive: Senators urge Pentagon not to downgrade U.S. Palestinian security post

A Palestinian protester yells at an Israeli soldier as he confronts him atop an Israeli army vehicle during a protest on September 4, 2019.
A Palestinian protester yells at an Israeli soldier as he confronts him atop an Israeli army vehicle during a protest on September 4, 2019. Photo: Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP via Getty Images.

One in three senators is urging the Pentagon not to downgrade the post of the official in charge of security coordination with Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: This comes after Axios contributing correspondent Barak Ravid first reported that the Pentagon is considering downgrading the post of the official from the rank of three-star general to that of a colonel to reduce the number of generals and admirals in accordance with the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act.

What we're watching: The bipartisan letter, led by Sens. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and signed by three dozen senators, warns that downgrading the post would undermine U.S. national security and risk peace and stability in Israel and the West Bank.

Details: "Downgrading this position would undermine critical security programs and degrade communications between Israelis and Palestinians, which the USSC facilitates," the senators wrote to U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.

  • "Such a downgrade would also risk fracturing the U.S.-led international coalition committed to strengthening security and stability in Israel and the West Bank.”
  • Other senators who've signed the letter include Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.).
  • Separately, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) wrote to Austin Thursday expressing concern that "downgrading the USSC’s rank will weaken the USSC's mission and imperil US security interests in the Middle East."

Between the lines: The State Department and the Israeli Defense Ministry also share the concern that such a decision could hurt security cooperation between the U.S. and Palestinians and damage coordination between Israeli and Palestinian officials, as Ravid reported.

  • Secretary of State Tony Blinken and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides have both urged the Pentagon against the plan.
  • The current U.S. security coordinator Lt. Gen. Michael Fenzel has also expressed that downgrading the post could harm the mission.

The big picture: The U.S. security coordinator (USSC) post was created in 2005 for to meet U.S. commitments under the Middle East Roadmap for Peace.

  • Their three-star rank allows them access to civilian and military officials in Washington, Jerusalem, and Ramallah.
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