Israel and the US are currently negotiating a 10-year foreign aid package, which is 99% military related. There are many benefits from US-Israeli collaboration, but the aid comes with strings attached and it may be that the negatives outweighs the positives. Reality dictates that no country should expect a current “benefactor” to remain so indefinitely; self interest is the rule. This make a multiplicity of suppliers mandatory. What does Israel’s self interest require for the near future?
The 2007-2017 military aid package from the US is $3.15 billion per year, excluding additional joint projects. 76% of the aid MUST BE SPENT IN THE US to generate profits and jobs for Americans. More than 1,000 companies in 47 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have signed contracts worth billions of dollars through this program, employing tens of thousands of American workers. (jewishvirtuallibrary.org)
The consequences of Israel being required to spend nearly 3/4 of the military aid in the US are significant. Israel fails to invest the needed funds into its own military industries, reducing its manufacturing expertise and reducing employment in its factories. The US wins because Israel buys American arms instead of developing its own, which might be better than Israel-produced products and become competition in the crowded arms market.
There are other consequences that are even more significant. For example, the new US F-35 JSF (Joint Strike Fighter), is far more expensive than any of its competitors, with a cost of $110 million EACH. Israel has ordered dozens of the new planes, despite failing to be allowed to install its own avionics systems on board. This is a major disappointment for Israel’s military industries.
The F-35 has other negatives besides its spiraling cos: a. Production problems have been endemic in the F-35’s development, delaying the delivery of weapons systems. b. The F-35 relies on the Internet to update all its avionics; the Internet is famously susceptible to hacking and its infrastructure (underwater cables to Europe/Israel) is vulnerable. c. Before every flight, the planes’ systems must be checked by American authorities, giving the US the ability to ground the planes at will.
Too much reliance on the US, or any particular country, has negative consequences. MidEast pundit Caroline Glick has reported that, “Last October, [Israeli] Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon asked US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to provide Israel with a new squadron of F-15s that Israel would outfit with its own electronics systems. Carter reportedly rejected that request as well as one for bunker buster bombs [necessary to penetrate Iranian nuclear weapons facilities]. Carter instead insisted that Israel use the supplemental aid to purchase more F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, US-made missile defense systems, and the Osprey V-22 helicopter, which Ya’alon didn’t want.” (carolineglick.com)
As mentioned above, Israel is a major arms exporter, despite the fact that it doesn’t produce its own fighter jets. (The story of the discontinued Lavi fighter jet is a fascinating example: dailymilitarynews) But the US is not the only supplier of war planes. Among others, Russia, China, France and Sweden are major manufacturers of jet aircraft for military use. Perhaps Israel’s money would be better spent on far less expensive aircraft, especially aircraft that can be used independently, to suit Israel’s needs.
What is worrying about Israel’s dependence on US military aid are the strings attached, even to the extent of withholding material. During Operation Protective Edge, when Israel finally retaliated against thousands of missiles lobbed at its citizens, the Pentagon halted a shipment of Hellfire air-to-ground missiles ordered by Israel. Top officials at the White House instructed US defense agencies to consult with the White House and the State Department before approving any additional Israeli requests, according to a Wall St. Journal report. (jpost.com 8/14/14) Then there are the requirements to use American material solely for “defensive” purposes. This stricture makes the US the arbiter of how Israel conducts itself against its enemies.
The US Congress has been stalwart in supporting special joint programs with Israel, but the composition of Congress changes every two years. There is no certainty that individual projects, no matter how important for either party, will be continued,or even reduced. For example, funding for the extremely successful Iron Dome project may be cut, along with extremely important missile defense projects: Arrow 2, the Arrow 3, and David’s Sling. Israel is thus put into a precarious position by relying on Congress.
Under the Obama administration, the US has proven to be an unreliable ally, neglecting or even abandoning its friends (prime example: Egypt’s deposed President Mubarak) and rewarding its foes (the woefully flawed nuclear deal with Iran). By comparison, President Putin, admittedly an unsavory character, has stood by Russia’s allies to the hilt.
In Israel’s region, it is Russia that has filled the power vacuum left by the disaster in Syria, not the US. This might change with a new administration, but the point is that Israel doesn’t have the luxury of being America’s dependent. In certain circumstances, it may be in Israel’s interests to collaborate with other global actors and not to be tied to the US.
India is a country whose friendship is being cultivated by Israel. Israel is the #2 seller of arms to India, the world’s largest weapons buyer. (Russia is India’s biggest weapons supplier.) The combination of India and Israel jointly developing weapons platforms is a major plus for both nations.
Israel’s economy has grown at a 3.8% rate since 1996. Its GDP is more than $300 billion per year. Israel has spent between $5-6 billion per year in this decade on its military budget. If Israel largely reduced its dependence on American military aid (there is only about $10 million in non-military aid, according to the Congressional Resource Service, 6/10/15) it would reduce its dependence and vulnerability to quixotic American politics.
If Israel doesn’t choose to finance all of its own military needs, there are countries other than the US that Israel could collaborate with. Wouldn’t Israel be more respected if it didn’t hang on America’s coattails?
No matter who the next American president is, Israel’s fate will always be secondary to the American government, as is obvious and expected of any nation. Israel could afford to spend more of its budget, already the highest per capita in the West, on the military. This would lessen its dependence on the US; it would reduce criticism by Americans who resent Israel receiving aid; it would allow Israel to strengthen ties with other allies; and it would put more Israelis to work in local defense factories, strengthening Israel’s vaunted ingenuity and self-reliance.