OCTOBER 2016. Last month the United States and Israel signed a military aid package which will cost the U.S. 38 billion dollars at the rate of 3.8 billion per year for ten years. The agreement commits the U.S. to give Israel to that amount and no more— unless Israel is attacked in war. In other words unless Israel becomes involved in a real shooting war 3.8 billion is the annual ceiling on military aid. A further limitation is that Israel is to use this aid to buy military goods from the U.S. or corporations chartered in the U.S., so the aid the money cannot be spent on arms development or purchases within Israel. Prior to this agreement Israel could send 25 percent of U.S. military aid money in ways that employed an indigenous Israeli arms industry.
This deal is being attacked by both Republican supporters of Israel and those who are critical of any support for Israel. There appear to be some Republican Congressmen who benefit politically by frequent championing of new military aid assistance for Israel, a practice which may now be burdened by the “no new money without war” restriction. But the much louder criticism has come from those who support anything which opposes the nourishment of Israel, a state many of these people believe to be based upon the illegitimate occupation of Palestine by Jews bent upon oppression, apartheid and colonial exploitation of land belonging to the Arab Palestinians. There is little that anyone can say about the subject of arms for Israel that could address the underlying hostility of many who oppose the very existence of Israel, the aided entity.
Those who are indifferent to or opposed to the very existence of Israeli Jews are not happy about any aid being given by anyone to protect their safety. The Journal of Public Law will address those folks directly in other posts. But I want to address the concerns of those who wonder if all this military aid for Israel is justified, who believe Israel should exist but question whether so much help from the U.S. is needed. The 3.8 billion is approximately 23 percent more than the 3.1 billion current annual aid figure. And that nearly 4 billion is several multiples of the amount being given to Egypt or any other aid recipient listed for American military assistance. Although this country undoubtedly spends far more than that in Afghanistan and Iraq, these are countries in which there are intense military conflicts. And of course Iraq and Afghanistan are also countries in which, for better or worse, the United States has been an occupying military force for well over a decade. American soldiers are not now stationed in Israel and have never been. So why should the United States be planning to give so much military aid to Israel?
Some of the critics of aid to Israel point out that Israel is not a particularly poor country. Phyllis Bennis refers to Israel as the 23d richest country in the world, and the CIA factbooks list it as among the 50 top countries for income per person. All rankings of nations by personal income, life expectancy, education level and happiness rank Israel among the top 25, while the U.S. is itself gradually slipping from among those so ranked. The goal of making America great again is surely not brought nearer by aid efforts to assist other countries which also rank among the great! Is not greatness usually the outcome of internal efforts, and should not other wealthy countries be expected to take care of their own problems? Are we not made more secure in the United States primarily by our efforts to help ourselves? The critics certainly have good arguments on their side even if one grants the premise that Israel should exist.
But if one believes that the State of Israel is necessary to protect the future of the 6 million Jews living there, then there are reasons for concern about the military posture of that country. Israel has enemies in the region. Many people in American liberal and leftists circles seem to ignore the fact that at least the following countries and militaristic organizations are not only opposed to the very existence of Israel, but also have powerful military capabilities: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS, Syria, Pakistan. Saudi Arabia, for example, is a country whose wealth dwarfs that of Israel, has always clearly been opposed to the existence of the Jewish State, and has a military budget of more than 80 billion per year. Math was never my strong suit, but that figure appears to me to be at least 20 times over larger than the U.S. planned aid to Israel. Iran has a military budget that dwarfs that of Israel as well. And many leaders of predominantly Muslim entities have expressed a lack of support for the existence of Israel and the continuation of Judaism.
Are any of these countries or organizations real threats to defeat or take over the U.S.? Of course not? Are any of them threats to the safety of Israelis? Certainly they are. Pakistan has more than one nuclear bomb and a long history of expressed sympathy with those who have advocated for ridding the world of Israel and its Zionists (aka Jews). The U.S. Congress has recently approved a sale of over one billion dollars in arms to Saudi Arabia. As one of the wealthiest countries in the world, Saudi Arabia does not need nor ask for monetary assistance, but it purchases many billions of U.S. made arms and military equiptment. Egypt receives more than a billion in U.S. aid, much of it for the purchase of weapons made by American firms like Grumman and Lockheed; now there is a country which has fought four wars with Israel. Little Lebanon, a next door neighbor which has not always been friendly to Israel, is the home of Hezbollah, a powerful militarized anti-Israeli organization. Incidentally Saudi Arabia has approved a military aid program for Lebanon of approximately the same figure as the 3 billion the U.S. currently gives Israel. The neighborhood in which Israel lives is a tough one for anyone who loses a fight or gets in one with a tougher opponent.
The size of Saudi military expenditures is perhaps less relevant to the discussion of U.S. arms policy than the fact that Israel is not even among the top ten purchasers of weapons made by U.S. firms. The largest purchaser of U.S. weapons since 2011 has been Saudi Arabia, not Israel. Nor is Israel even among the top ten, but the Arab Emirates rates second only to Saudi Arabia, and both of these heavier-than-Israel purchasers of American tools of war have in common that they do not recognize Israel as a nation; both of these countries, as well as 16 other members of the Arab League are still firmly within the camp of Moslem nations that would eliminate Israel if they could. Many of these countries are oil rich and do billions of dollars in business with America’s huge energy companies.
An aid package for Israel should be seen as a humanitarian gesture in its effects, if it certainly is not primarily a humanitarian gesture in the intention of the arms manufacturers or the politicians who favor it. The phrase “6 million Jews” has a horrific connotation in recent European history. The systematic murder of Europe’s Jews might not have happened if there had been a Jewish state to give them refuge in the twenty years leading up to the 1947 declaration of Israel’s creation by the Zionists who are so deeply hated by large numbers of Muslims and self-righteous Americans. History is made by the hates and loves of real people. I am a lover of Jews, including those who live in Israel. Denying these people protection will not lead to peace. Arming them is not the cause of their mistakes either. Those who would deny the Israelis any arms deal that would give Israel current defensibility from potential military aggression should recognize that their hostility to arming Israel is also the hostility that could bring on another slaughter of Jews.
This posting raises more questions than it answers. I am aware of the need to follow issues raised here with much greater attention to the history of current international law and practice. Quick glib answers to complex problems can easily do harm. But I hope this posting at least opens the proverbial door to further reflection.