American Aid Will Be the Death of Israel

One can only hope that Netanyahu's unfathomable strategy of alienating Washington, even the Democrats, while seeking more aid, won't work – at any level.

David Rosenberg
David Rosenberg
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David Rosenberg
David Rosenberg

One of the main topics of discussion this week between Benjamin Netanyahu and (according to Bibi’s media adviser-designate) the notorious anti-Semite Barack Obama was just how much extra aid the U.S. would be giving Israel in coming years.

No one mentioned exact numbers, but the word is that Israel is seeking as much as $5 billion a year over 10 years, nearly $2 billion more annually than it gets now.

Being that Obama is bent on weakening Israel and ensuring radical Muslims take over the Middle East – another view popular among certain figures in the Israeli and American-Jewish right – Israel will probably not get all the $5 billion. But given the warm words at the White House meeting, Israel can be confident it will be getting at least hundreds of millions more annually, on top of a host of other military aid, such as financial help with the Iron Dome anti-missile system.

To anyone who isn’t besotted by love of Israel, it is a little hard to explain why we deserve so much money, much less why we deserve even more in the future.

Since Israel's establishment nearly 70 years ago, the U.S. has given it more than $124 billion. Most that was in the last three decades.

Next year, Israel will account for more than half of all U.S. foreign military assistance, and it will get it under more generous terms than anyone else – paid in one lump sum at the start of the year, and permission to use up to a quarter of it at home rather than on American arms. The U.S. has paid large chunks of the costs for developing the Arrow and Iron Dome systems. It also stockpiles weapons in Israel, theoretically for American use if the need arises, but also available to Israel.

Can't buy me love

What does the U.S. get in return? Israel is a strategic asset, a reliable ally and stable democracy in a part of the world that is frustratingly unreliable, and is ruled by an assortment of dictators and sheikhs. Israel has supplied crucial intelligence over the years, the most recent example being on the downed Russian jet liner. It has developed missile and anti-missile technology, drones and is now at the forefront of cyber warfare. Israel covertly helped slow Iranian nuclear progress and is no doubt playing a role in keeping the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi from losing control and Jordan’s King Abdullah on his throne.

If Israel was once a strategic asset for the U.S. in the Cold War, it has now become one in the struggle with Islamic extremism.

All of this is hard to quantify to dollar terms. In any rate, it is likely that Israel would provide all these services to the United States without aid, or substantially less aid, since they all serve Israel’s interests anyway.

Russian experts work at the site where a Russian passenger plane bound for St. Petersburg crashed in Sinai, evidently due to terrorism, Nov. 2, 2015.Credit: AP

Aid certainly hasn’t given Washington sway over Israeli policy, as Obama certainly knows after six years of frustration over the Palestinians, settlements and Iran.

The aid largesse has also been justified as an element of America’s shared values with Israel and as a moral obligation. But the two countries can share values without any money changing hands, and the moral obligation America has to Israel isn’t self-evident. Germany may have a moral obligation, but what does America owe Israel? To help ensure a small and embattled democracy? Maybe, once, when Israel’s defense burden was so heavy and Israel’s economy so small and relatively poor that generous U.S. aid was the only way Israel could survive.

Now, when defense spending is a relatively small 5.6% of gross domestic product (15 years ago, it was close to 10%) and Israel is among the wealthier countries in the world, we don’t need the largesse, certainly not on the scale we get now.

Rather, U.S. aid is a kind of addiction that Israel doesn’t want to rid itself of. With a fifth of its budget paid for by Washington, American aid has helped the army avoid making hard decisions about how it spends its money, and has given a free ride to the rest of the government, which doesn’t have the bear the full price for Israel’s heavy defense burden.

Thanks to America, there’s more money for yeshivas and settlements, a bloated civil service and useless cabinet portfolios.

Aid as a way to shoot U.S. policy in the foot

One thing aid doesn’t do, as its critics contend, is make Israel more hawkish.

Quite to the contrary, a full or partial loss of American aid would force Israel to be even warier about its neighbors. It would have to risk the concessions required to ensure a Palestinian state.

A smaller defense budget would mean a smaller army that would have to, even more than now, maintain its military advantage by striking first, or risk a long and costly defensive war.

Like any addiction, Israel’s reliance on aid isn’t good for its long-term health.

We can’t count on the same level of generosity in perpetuity. Bibi has undone the wall-to-wall support Israel has traditionally enjoyed in Washington. The Democrats, especially the liberal end of the party, are no longer in Israel’s pocket.

It is a wonder that Republicans, who are tightwads in respect to almost everything else in the federal budget, morph into tax-and-spend liberals when it comes to aid to Israel. That logical contradiction isn’t going to last forever. Yes, $3.1 billion isn’t a big line item in the budget, but neither is the Export-Import Bank, which Tea Party lawmakers have been trying to eliminate. The day Israel stops being sacrosanct, so will the aid.

America’s demographics aren’t favorable to the broad support Israel has enjoyed in public. Younger Americans are less supportive than older Americans. Israel enjoys its highest levels of support among religious Americans, particularly fundamentalist Christians, but the percentage of Americans who say they are not religious is growing.

Even among American Jews, the gulf is widening between their liberal sentiments and Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians (and the status of Reform and Conservative Judaism). Modern and ultra-Orthodox Jews made be in Israel’s court but by themselves they don’t begin to have the power and influence of mainstream Jewry.

The day is approaching when Congress and the president won’t be signing a check every year and asking if there is anything more they can do.

But rather than ready for that day Bibi has engaged in a bizarre strategy of alienating the Democratic half of Washington and America while asking for even more aid. As he hastens Judgement Day, he’s dissing the judges and ensuring that when it comes, the pain inflicted will be more severe than ever. Rather than asking for 10 years of more aid, we should be asking for 10 years of less.



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