On Saturday, NY Times pundit Nicholas Kristof, decidedly not a member of the we-all-love-Israel club, to put it mildly, wrote, “This is not about whacking Israel,” but “does it really make sense for the United States to provide the enormous sum of $3.8 billion annually to another wealthy country?”
In an op-ed titled, “With Israel, It’s Time to Start Discussing the Unmentionable,” Kristoff admitted that “in reality, it’s not so much aid to Israel as it is a backdoor subsidy to American military contractors.” And so, he cited former US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer who said in an email: “Israel’s economy is strong enough that it does not need aid; security assistance distorts Israel’s economy and creates a false sense of dependency. Aid provides the US with no leverage or influence over Israeli decisions to use force; because we sit by quietly while Israel pursues policies we oppose, we are seen as ‘enablers’ of Israel’s occupation.”
Kristoff includes in his op-ed a quote from Oslo Accords architect Yossi Beilin, who stated, “Israel should give up on the American aid”; and former peace negotiator Aaron David Miller, who said, “Under the right conditions and in a galaxy far, far away, with US-Israeli relations on even if not better keel, there would be advantages to both to see military aid phased out over time”; and J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami, who went courageously on the record declaring, “There’s a serious conversation that should be had ahead of this next memorandum of understanding about how best to use $40 billion in US tax dollars, yet instead of a serious national security discussion, you’re likely to get a toxic mix of partisan brawling and political pandering.”
Dr. Shmuel Even, who was a senior research fellow at INSS for many years, noted recently (see a fuller treatment of his article below):
“As for those in the US who advocate making military aid to Israel contingent on its policy towards the Palestinians, Israel should make it clear that the strategic relationship is deeply rooted, multi-faceted, and long-term (the 10-year MOU shows this), while these advocates are trying to portray the relationship as being merely give-and-take, i.e., shallow and one-dimensional. These views clash with Israel’s independence and democratic character; conditioning the aid constitutes interference in Israel’s relations with the Palestinians, which comprise a fundamental national security – and politically controversial – issue in Israel.”
BACK TO THE BASICS
On March 14, 1979, under the headline, “Carter Is Said to Put New US Aid for Israel and Egypt at $4 Billion,” the NY Times reported: “United States officials said today that the conclusion of an Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty would cost the American taxpayer $4 billion and was likely to lead to new but relatively loose security arrangements between the two countries and Washington.”
NYT correspondent Richard Burt wrote: “The American readiness to pledge additional aid to Israel and Egypt is said to have made both sides more willing to agree to the peace treaty,” and explained: “Having agreed to withdraw from Sinai, Israel believes it now faces new security problems that can be ameliorated by American arms. … some officials expect the bigger part, perhaps as much as $3 billion, to go to Israel for the replacement of air bases and civilian settlements being abandoned in Sinai under the proposed peace treaty.”
Since the 1967 victory, the Sinai served as a vast training ground for the IDF and the IAF. Giving it back introduced huge costs, both immediate and ongoing. The Carter administration had a solution: the US would pay Israel $3 billion annually to defray those costs. Since then, the basic amount has not varied or adjusted for inflation. Only in 2016 did the Obama administration revamp the aid agreement, raising it to $3.8 billion annually for ten years, which will come to an end in 2027.
In return for its cash, the US was able to push the Soviet Union out of the Middle East and remain the sole superpower in the region for 40 years. It also imposed its will on Israel on a variety of security issues, including killing a warplane project that would have out-performed what the US had to offer in the 1980s. The US is also able to restrict Israeli ties with China. It’s a good relationship, which would have continued uninterrupted had President Biden not been pushed by the leftists in his party to join the effort to topple the Netanyahu government.
US AID HURTS ISRAEL
Jacob Siegel and Liel Leibovitz last week in Tablet prequelled Kristoff’s idea under the headline, “End US Aid to Israel – America’s manipulation of the Jewish state is endangering Israel and American Jews.” They wrote:
“While this fantasy version of the US-Israeli relationship is useful for stirring up emotions and demonstrating partisan loyalties, it does more to flatter the self-importance of Israel-aid opponents and supporters alike than it does to describe an increasingly warped reality, in which Israel ends up sacrificing far more value in return for the nearly $4 billion it annually receives from Washington. That’s because nearly all military aid to Israel—other than loan guarantees, which cost Washington nothing, the US gives Israel no other kind of aid—consists of credits that go directly from the Pentagon to U.S. weapons manufacturers.”
“As the costs to Israel of US aid have skyrocketed over the past decade, the benefits of the relationship with the US have only grown larger. Aid is popular with key voting blocs (few of them Jewish). It functions as a lucrative backdoor subsidy to US arms makers and provides Congress and the White House with a tool to leverage influence over a key strategic ally. The Israeli military, often ranked as the fourth-most powerful in the world, has become an adjunct to American power in a crucial region in which the US has lost the appetite for projecting military force. Israeli intelligence functions as America’s eyes and ears, not just in the Middle East but in other key strategic theaters like Russia and Central Asia, and even parts of Latin America. Controlling access to the output of Israel’s powerful high-tech sector is a strategic advantage for the US that alone is worth many multiples of the credits Israel receives. Meanwhile, the optics of bringing the snarling Israeli attack dog to heel helps credential the US as a global power that plays fair—but must also be feared.”
I wrote in that context on July 12 (White House Urging Israelis to Play Nice, Tom Friedman Says US to Reassess Relationship with Israel):
“Israel’s Gross Domestic Product at the last count (2021) was $488.5 billion. It’s probably hovering around half a trillion by now. Should the US decide to stop living up to its 1978 commitment and terminate its foreign aid to Israel, the only ones who will suffer would be the employees of the military-industrial complex plants on Long Island and in Washington State and between.”
DON’T KNOCK US AID TILL YOU TRIED TO DO WITHOUT IT
But Dr. Shmuel Even from INSS reminded us in a memo titled, “US Military Aid – Still a Strategic Asset for Israel”:
“Military aid is the main resource for the IDF’s force build-up. It is provided in two frameworks: the foreign military financing (FMF) program and the US Department of Defense’s share in the financing of joint projects, involving mainly anti-missile defense. Israel also receives special military grants on a need-to basis. In addition, the United States permits Israel to use stocks of American weapons in Israel in wartime. This option expands the inventory available to Israel.
“Furthermore, the local industries are included in the production of American arms designated for Israel, and American companies carry out reciprocal procurement from Israeli industries. For example, as part of the procurement agreements for the F-35 stealth aircraft, the Americans agreed to procure equipment from Israeli companies participating in the production of the aircraft.”
But wait, there’s more, according to Even:
“The relationship between Israel and the United States also promotes other American interests. For example, Israel is a strategic partner that gives the US a foothold in the region, and gives it a key role in promoting diplomatic processes in the Israeli-Arab conflict, even though Israel does not subordinate its policy to US’ wishes, as can be seen by the dispute with the Obama administration on construction in the territories and the nuclear agreement with Iran.
“Furthermore, the two countries cooperate in a range of areas. In defense, this extends to cooperation on intelligence, technology, lessons from the use of American arms, and training. In addition, the American arms industries benefit from regular demand for their output from the IDF, which is a consumer with a considerable reputation in the global arms market.”
Having researched this report, I find myself questioning my initial view, that Israel would be better off without the constraints of US Aid. It’s true that when Americans, especially American Jews of the progressive kind, wave the aid in our faces in complete ignorance of the deep and subtle issues involved, I, too, am tempted to tell them to take their money and relocate it to an obscure region. But in the end, the aid keeps the two sides connected in many different ways, and that is more important than my and your impulsive reactions to the Gringo.