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Wednesday, December 6th, 2023

Bipartisan Senate push seeks higher level leadership to remain at helm of Jerusalem-based USSC post

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A bipartisan collection of 34 senators expressed concern this week amid reports that the Pentagon may downgrade the U.S. Security Coordinator (USSC) position based in Israel to a colonel rather than a three-star general.

The senators argue that the change could disrupt operations at a key U.S. military and diplomatic post in the Middle East. The USSC is a joint, international, interagency office that utilizes Department of Defense service members assigned to the State Department, giving it a unique role as a middleman of sorts, mediating between the United States, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority.

“Given continued regional volatility, steadfast high-level U.S. leadership and engagement to support peace and stability in Israel and the West Bank remain in the national security interest of the United States,” the senators wrote. “Downgrading this position would undermine critical security programs and degrade communications between Israelis and Palestinians, which the USSC facilitates. 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.”

At its heart, the issue is that changing the position to that of a colonel would mean the USSC is led by a non-general or flag officer. Unlike the senior role currently running things, lawmakers warn that this could restrict the USSC’s access to top military and diplomatic officials, as it might question U.S. credibility and leadership.

“We understand Congress has required the Department to reduce the aggregate number of flag and general officers, and this requirement may have driven consideration of this change,” the senators said. “Nevertheless, we urge you not to downgrade this position at a time when U.S. leadership in the region is critical, and we stand ready to work with you to amend the law as necessary to support this vital policy objective.”

The letter was written to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III and led by U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff (D-GA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).