Steven Teplitsky

When is a gift not a gift? When there are strings attached.

When is a gift not a gift?
When there are strings attached.
When is a gift not a gift?
When it’s not truly a gift.

The catch about not looking a gift horse in the mouth is that it may be a Trojan Horse.


Israel has received hundreds of billions of dollars in U.S. foreign aid in the post–World War II era, a level of support that reflects many factors, including a U.S. commitment to Israel’s security and the countries’ shared foreign policy interests in a volatile and strategically important part of the world.

The two countries do not have a mutual defense pact, as the United States has with allies such as Japan and fellow members of NATO. However, Israel is among a short list of “major non-NATO allies” and has privileged access to the most advanced U.S. military platforms and technologies.

About half of Americans hold favorable views of Israel, according to recent polls. But ongoing U.S. military aid to Israel has come under greater scrutiny amid Israel’s war with Hamas.


Israel has been the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign aid since its founding, receiving about $300 billion (adjusted for inflation) in total economic and military assistance. The United States has also provided large foreign aid packages to other Middle Eastern countries, particularly Egypt and Iraq, but Israel stands apart.

The United States provided Israel considerable economic assistance from 1971 to 2007, but nearly all U.S. aid today goes to support Israel’s military, the most advanced in the region. The United States has provisionally agreed (via a memorandum of understanding) to provide
Israel with nearly $4 billion a year through 2028, and U.S. lawmakers are considering billions of dollars in supplementary funding for Israel amid its war with Hamas.


Most of the aid—approximately $3.3 billion a year—is provided as grants under the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program, funds that Israel must use to purchase U.S. military equipment and services. Israel has also historically been permitted to use a portion of its FMF aid to buy equipment from Israeli defense firms—a benefit not granted to other
recipients of U.S. military aid—but this domestic procurement is to be phased out in the next few years. U.S. aid reportedly accounts for some 15 percent of Israel’s defense budget. Israel, like many other countries, also buys U.S. military products outside of the FMF program.

Additionally, $500 million a year is slated for Israeli and joint U.S.-Israeli missile defense programs, in which the two countries collaborate on the research, development, and production of these systems used by Israel, including the Iron Dome, David’s Sling, and Arrow II.

Iron Dome was solely developed by Israel, but the United States has been a production
partner since 2014. For instance, the U.S. military contractor Raytheon manufactures Tamir interceptor missiles for Israel’s Iron Dome at its facilities in Arizona.


Transfers of U.S. military equipment to Israel, as to other foreign governments, are subject to relevant U.S. law. Before selling major U.S. weapon systems or services to foreign powers, the president typically must notify Congress , allowing lawmakers a period to review the sale (fifteen days for sales to Israel). Congress can block a sale through a joint resolution, although this has never happened. In special cases, the president can bypass the congressional review if they deem that a national security emergency exists. President Joe Biden has used this expedited waiver process for both Israel and Ukraine.

The United States cannot provide security assistance to foreign governments or groups that commit gross human rights violations, a red line enshrined in the so-called Leahy Law. Moreover, the Biden administration announced in February 2023 that it would not provide
arms to recipients deemed likely to commit serious human rights violations. Some legal scholars and other critics have alleged that the United States has not applied the Leahy Law with regard to Israel as it has with other Middle Eastern countries, but as recently as March 2024, Israel has sent written assurances to the US that its weapons are not violating human rights.

Any military aid that the United States provides to recipients must only be used according to agreed-upon terms and conditions, and it is incumbent on the U.S. government to monitor the end use of the equipment it provides. For instance, the Ronald Reagan administration banned transfers of cluster munitions to Israel for several years in the 1980s after it determined that Israel had used them on civilian targets during its invasion of Lebanon. In a recent example, the Biden administration withheld a planned shipment of U.S.-made assault rifles to Israel in December 2023 due to concerns that the weapons would end up in the hands of extremist Israeli settlers in the West Bank.

Israel has agreed to use U.S. weapons only in self-defense. Outside of this, Biden administration officials have said they have not placed further limitations or constraints on how Israel uses U.S. weapons, although they say that Israel should observe international law.


Recent polls suggest that most Americans believe the United States is providing Israel the right amount of or not enough support, but public opinion has shifted in many countries as the civilian death toll has mounted and a majority of Gazan Palestinians remain displaced.

Biden has been an ardent supporter of Israel’s right to self-defense and continues to supply Israel with military aid, but he and some members of the U.S. Congress are concerned about the Netanyahu government’s prosecution of the war. Some U.S. lawmakers have raised
these criticisms in the debate over U.S. aid to Israel during the war in Gaza.

More broadly, some U.S. and Israeli analysts have said that U.S. aid to Israel should be reevaluated because Israel is now a wealthy country—the fourteenth richest per capita—with one of the most advanced militaries in the world. Unlike Cold War Israel in the 1970s,
when large amounts of U.S. aid started to flow, modern Israel is more than capable of providing for its own security, and the U.S. aid unnecessarily distorts the bilateral relationship and the countries’ respective foreign policies, these observers say. “It’s time for an agreed-on path to phase out military aid,” wrote CFR Senior Fellow Steven A.
Cook in 2020. “This is not punishment but rather recognition that the United States has been successful in achieving its goal, assistance is not an entitlement.” 

Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel and current has also called for reductions in U.S. aid. “The US-Israel relationship would be a lot healthier without this dependence.
Time for Israel at 75 to stand on its own two feet,”  he wrote in June 2023.

Other experts argue that U.S. aid actually weakens Israel’s own defense industrial base while serving primarily as a guaranteed revenue stream for U.S. defense contractors, industries and experts, and in the end helps the countries counter shared threats in the Middle East, particularly Iran. U.S. aid remains a “vital and cost-effective expenditure” that enhances U.S. national security, and it should not be reduced or conditioned, wrote more than three hundred Republican lawmakers in 2021. Ending U.S. military aid today “would send a message to all of Israel’s enemies that Israel’s greatest friend was stepping away, so they should double down on their plans for more, and more deadly, assaults on the Jewish state,” wrote CFR Senior Fellow Elliott Abrams in September 2023.

At the beginning of World War II, the United States, under the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt initiated the Lend-Lease program. This program had several goals. The first was to maintain a “neutral” position in World War II and the second was to catapult the United States’ economy out of the depression and ignite its military-industrial economy.

The Lend-Lease Act was signed into law on March 11, 1941, and ended on September 20, 1945. A total of $50.1 billion (equivalent to $801 billion in 2023 when accounting for inflation) worth of supplies was shipped, or 17% of the total war expenditures of the U.S.  In all, $31.4 billion went to the United Kingdom, $11.3 billion to the Soviet Union, $3.2 billion to France, $1.6 billion to China, and the remaining $2.6 billion to other Allies.

Materiel delivered under the act was supplied at no cost, to be used until returned or destroyed. In practice, most equipment was destroyed, although some hardware (such as ships) was returned after the war. Supplies that arrived after the termination date were sold to the United Kingdom at a large discount for £1.075 billion, using long-term loans from the United States, which were finally repaid in 2006. Similarly, the Soviet Union repaid $722 million in 1971, with the remainder of the debt written off.

The history of US aid goes back over 80 years. US aid has been a policy of the US only
when it serves US interests. Lend Lease had a tremendous role in making the United States a super power and the effects on the US economy are still seen today.

US aid to Israel is not a gift. Congress takes the money “out of one pocket” and forces Israel to use that money so that it goes back into another US pocket. Only 15% of US aid remains at Israel’s discretion to spend.

As members of the Democratic Party are calling to withhold aid from Israel it may be a good time for Israel to publicly express its desire to re-assess this aid as well. Because of its many battles over the last 75 years, Israel has been able to be a practical sales force for US military equipment. For example, prior to 1967, France had been Israel’s main source of military equipment and due to the Six Day War a little known aircraft manufacturer by the name of Dassault was thrust into the limelight with Israel’s victory using Dassault’s Mirage Jet.

Israel can make any aircraft manufacturer in the US look good due to its military prowess,  but military aircraft are also manufactured in Sweden, Germany, France and South Korea. Imagine the PR if Israel was to fly a Hyundai F35 or a Saab-Scania F35.

Who has more to lose in this relationship?

Every manufacturer has a competitor and no one wants to lose an important customer.

To be continued…….

The information provided on US Aid was supplied by the Council on Foreign Relations
About the Author
Graduated from Brandeis University in Near Eastern and Jewish Studies in 1978 before completion of PhD (ABD) in "Relationship of US to Pre 1948 Yishuv". Active in Toronto Jewish community while pursuing business career. Made Aliyah in 2020. Last person to be admitted into Israel before Covid shutdown. Favorite movie quotes are "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!" and "You can't handle the truth!" and "Whaddya think, I'm dumb or something?"
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