One of the more regrettable things that Uncle Sam does with your tax dollars is sending $3.1 billion in military aid to Israel every year. He’ll be doing that until 2018 — and probably after, unless Americans decide enough is enough.
When President Barack Obama traveled to Israel in March, he was keen to “reaffirm the unbreakable bond between our nations” and “to restate America’s unwavering commitment to Israel’s security.” Over the years, Washington has displayed this resolve in several ways. One of the most consequential has been the continuous stream of taxpayer dollars that has kept Israel armed to the teeth and reduced the prospects for Middle East peace.
In the old days, a big chunk of the annual aid package for the Jewish state was economic. But since Israel became a fairly rich country by world standards — only 40 nations have more Gross Domestic Product per capita — its government worried that congressional support for this assistance would erode. So in the mid-1990s, Benjamin Netanyahu, then also Israel’s prime minister, struck a bargain with Washington whereby the economic aid would be phased out and replaced with more funds for guns.
Well over half of the $67.4 billion in military assistance to Israel since its inception in 1948 has been sent since 1997. In 2007, Netanyahu signed another pact guaranteeing (from 2009 forward) that virtually the entire yearly package is military. It’s a sweet deal for both Israel and American arms manufacturers.
The cash grants are called Foreign Military Financing. By U.S. law, the recipient state must spend all of that money buying weapons made in the USA. Every beneficiary, that is, except for Israel — which by special dispensation can set aside 26 percent of this cash for its domestic weapons industry. The exemption has enabled the Jewish state to develop formidable armaments of its own — often on par with Western militaries — and to become a major arms exporter.
But there’s plenty of loot left over for the American companies because of the sheer size of Israel’s aid package, which, in 2012, comprised 60 percent of the Foreign Military Financing handed out worldwide. This corporate welfare makes the likes of Lockheed Martin huge supporters of the U.S.-Israeli alliance and sharpens their interest in seeing the Middle East at war, not at peace.
The goal of all this aid is to give Israel a “qualitative military edge” over any possible combination of Arab countries — a version of Reagan-era nostrums about “peace through strength.” Yet since 1997, when the assistance began to skyrocket, Israel has reached no new peace agreement, either with Arab neighbors or the Palestinian people. It has built more settlements on Palestinian land rather than taking any steps to end its illegal occupation.
The constant flow of U.S. weapons and military aid encourages the more obstinate instincts in the Israeli establishment. It bolsters the ones counseling that Israel should remain a garrison state behind an “iron wall,” so feared that it does not need to compromise with anyone.
Foreign Military Financing is one way in which the United States, far from an “honest broker” in the Middle East conflict, is an obstacle to peace. At the same time, the largesse is a source of tremendous leverage: Were Washington to signal that it might be cut off or reduced, Israel’s strategic calculus would change dramatically. But that outcome is unlikely unless a critical mass of Americans demands that their tax dollars no longer bankroll Israeli policies of aggression and territorial conquest.