Dmitri Shufutinsky
Dmitri Shufutinsky

Is US Military Aid Really Good for Israel?

On September 14, 2016, the United States signed a new defense aid deal with Israel–the biggest pledge ever of such a deal by America towards any other country. The deal, which begins in 2019 (after the current Memorandum of Understanding expires) and goes through 2029, gives Israel $38 billion in military assistance, which President Obama, Prime Minister Netanyahu, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, and National Security Advisor Susan Rice hailed as a sign of the “unbreakable bond” and “shared values” between Washington DC and Jerusalem. It served to highlight that despite policy differences on the Palestinian issue between Netanyahu and Obama, both are interested in retaining the historically-strong ties between the two democracies. On the surface, this deal may seem wonderful–Bibi even profusely thanked President Obama in a video released today. From the nuclear program of Iran to the terrorist groups proliferating in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Sinai, Gaza, and Lebanon, this aid will indeed strengthen Israel at a time of serious instability. But what are the effects over the long term?

Critics of PM Netanyahu claim that if he got along better with Obama, he might have been able to secure a better agreement. Others say that the deal harms Israel’s own defense industry, as it requires the Jewish state to spend less of the aid in domestic defense companies and more into American ones. Under the deal, Israel also had to agree not to request more aid from Congress, unless a new war breaks out and causes a serious crisis. In theory, these provisions should calm naysayers in the US and elsewhere, who believe there should be a reduction of foreign aid in general, if not a total elimination. If Israel spends more money on American defense contractors, it means that more Americans get jobs rather than said jobs being outsourced. But sadly, this often isn’t the case.

Some naive types believe that aid should be withheld until Israel “ends settlements and negotiates with Palestinians for a two-state solution”, not realizing or perhaps not caring about the fact that it’s Palestinian societal anti-Semitism that has stymied peace talks. Others hold the views of Rand Paul, that while Israel is a great partner and deserves help, the US can’t afford to dole out any more money, even to close allies–this sentiment particularly increases when it comes to “thriving First World countries”, which Israel is.  And then there’s some people who are just plain racist, thinking that ending foreign aid to Israel would result in the country’s destruction and a sudden peace in the region, or touting conspiracy theories about “Rothschilds” and a “Jewish Zionist banking and lobbying enterprise”. This way of thinking poses a threat to Israel, as Millennials, even some Jewish ones, adopt positions more hostile to Israel and think the money would be better spent elsewhere. Some accuse Israel of leeching off of the United States. One day, these college “activists” will be the leaders of America and other Western nations, and they may be less inclined to help Israel.

One thing Israel and its allies should do to prevent this is to tell the truth and spread it. Much of the aid going to Israel cements America’s strong position in the Middle East and protects its interests. With Israel often fighting jihadists throughout the region, Western countries don’t have to get involved as much as they otherwise would. It also creates jobs in the defense and tech sectors in the United States who might otherwise be unemployed. But in the future, I do think Israel should start to question how helpful the aid really is. Don’t get me wrong, it’s saved and protected Israel many times. However, Israel is a technologically advanced country and has made billions of dollars from selling its own technology to other countries, perhaps most notably, India. Continuing to accept such aid deals as the one put forward by the Obama Administration may be holding Israel back from reaching its full potential.

And then there’s the fear that perhaps one day, an American presidential administration may be so opposed to Israeli policy, or fearful of a ballooning debt, that defense aid packages to Jerusalem will be either smaller or nonexistent. Israel should prepare for such an event, no matter how unlikely it may seem right now. It should strive to, over the coming decades, invest more in its own domestic defense industry and create jobs for Israelis in this field. As it is, income inequality is sending many Israelis abroad, sometimes permanently, and discouraging Diaspora Jews from making aliyah. If Israel starts creating more jobs in the defense industry and weaning itself off of American aid, this can perhaps have a slowing effect on yerida. Eventually giving up American aid, or accepting less of it, also gives Israel more room to pursue its own interests, without having the fear that America will lessen or end aid if Israel does something a presidential administration disagrees with. This is especially a growing concern as the US finds itself having a different vision for/of the Middle East than Israel does, as evidenced by the naive nuclear deal signed with Iran; the ousting of Qaddafi and Saddam without backup plans; support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 2012; lack of a response to Syria; and continued support of a two-state “solution” despite the lack of a genuine peace partner.

As I said earlier, there’s no doubt that American military aid has in the past & present (and likely for the foreseeable future) helped Israel deal with the numerous threats in the region. But Israel has the technological know-how to build a massive and competent defense industry with weapons that will be coveted by numerous countries. Bettering and expanding its own domestic industry and relying less on unpredictable foreigners’ assistance, with their differing and sometimes naive view of the Middle East, will only expand Israel’s economy and free it up from pursuing its own interests, while expanding upon/forging new ties with other countries. It will also silence or slow down the critique from anti-aid people. This is something I think should be taken into consideration in the upcoming Twenties, when negotiations for a new MoU will probably begin.

About the Author
Dmitri Shufutinsky is a graduate of Arcadia University's Masters program in International Peace & Conflict Resolution. He is an ardent Zionist and a supporter of indigenous rights, autonomy, solidarity, and sovereignty. Dmitri currently lives in Kibbutz Erez, Israel as a Lone Soldier in the Garin Tzabar program, and is in the Givati Brigade.
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