Tal Heinrich | August 3, 2022

The Pentagon still plans to change the ranking required for the position of the United States Security Coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority (USSC) from three-star general to colonel, The Times of Israel reported on Tuesday. The Jerusalem-based USSC mission serves as the liaison between the Israel Defense Forces and Palestinian Authority security forces, and works to enhance and coordinate security cooperation between them. According to its website, the USSC office also leads efforts in advising the P.A. on security-sector reform. The downgrade of the military post is a result of legislation passed by Congress in 2017 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The bill included a provision to reduce the number of generals and flag officers by 2022 in order to lower spending costs.

The report quoted United States Department of Defense spokesman Rob Lodewick as saying that the Defense Department “remains committed to supporting the USSC, its critical mission and its advancement of U.S. foreign- and defense-policy goals, to promote stability and security in Israel, the West Bank and across the region.” Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said this move sends a bad signal. “At a time when Israelis, Palestinians and many Arab states are all looking for signs that the U.S. remains committed to the region, downgrading the USSC and other regional military attachés makes little sense,” he said.

A group of 32 bipartisan senators recently expressed opposition to the move, despite having voted in favor of the legislation. About 60 members of the U.S. House of Representatives have sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin with the same request, that the Jerusalem coordinator remain a three-star rank officer. In a letter written by Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Lindsey Graham, the senators said that downgrading the position “would undermine U.S. leadership and credibility in a region where it is essential to have a high-ranking officer who can engage with other nations’ highest-level military leaders.”

The letter further stated that pursuing the Pentagon’s plan “would undermine critical security programs and degrade communications between Israelis and Palestinians, which the USSC facilitates.” The Times of Israel noted that a majority of these lawmakers voted to pass the NDAA in 2017. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides reportedly have conveyed similar concerns, along with Israel’s Defense Ministry.