US military aid to Israel, intended to sustain its “qualitative military edge”, sustains the occupation and violence against Palestinians.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu lost his battle to kill the Iran nuclear deal last spring. That loss may yet yield him a victory: a sizeable increase in U.S. military aid “as compensation” for the Iran deal.
In a meeting at the White House on November 16, 2015, the Prime Minister reportedly requested a new ten-year commitment of military aid the amount of $50 billion. That amount would represent an increase from the current $3.1 billion a year to $5 billion ($13.7 million a day). At the start of negotiations for a new aid program to begin in FY 2018, President Obama reportedly offered an increase in the annual contributions to “between $4.2 and $4.5 billion”
With the seldom-reported military aid package back in the news, it is useful to view the larger scope of U.S. military and other aid to Israel. In its June 10, 2015 report (“U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel”), the Congressional Research Service (CRS) detailed the various spigots of United States assistance to Israel that are on top of the ten-year arms grant agreements. For example, Defense Department appropriations for U.S.-Israeli Missile Defense Programs ($620 million for FY 2015) help finance the Iron Dome, David’s Sling and Arrow projects. During the 2014 Gaza war, Congress voted an additional $225 million of funds to augment the Iron Dome project.
An important non-monetary benefit is “cash flow financing,” which enables Israel to pay with U.S. borrowed funds (i.e. funds on which the U.S. incurs debt) for its U.S. arms purchases on an installment plan.
More surprising is that the Israeli government is allowed to earn interest on the early lump sum transfer of U.S. grant funds before they are needed for arms purchases. Never mind that such grants are funded with borrowed money on which interest is charged to the U.S. government (and ultimately its taxpayers).
Israel is allowed to use approximately 26.3% of its military aid grants for domestic defense purchases, helping the Israeli defense industry become a major arms exporter. Israel is also eligible to receive excess defense articles, such as the 2013 transfer of 236 excess tactical trucks valued at $7.6 million. In addition, the U.S. maintains an emergency stockpile in Israel (currently valued at about $1.8 billion), which the Israeli Defense Force has at times drawn down for use in past conflicts.
Congress has proposed legislation for FY 2016 that would authorize additional funding at undisclosed levels for anti-tunnel defense.
Non-military assistance to Israel comes from the migration and refugee assistance account ($12 to $80 million a year)—to assist in the resettlement of migrants to Israel; and loan guarantees to assist with housing shortages or to provide an economic safety net. Loan guarantees enable Israel to borrow at lower than commercial rates. As of 2015 Israel was authorized to issue up to $3.8 billion in U.S.-backed bonds.
While the overriding purpose of U.S. military aid is to maintain Israel’s “qualitative military edge” over neighboring countries, most of the arms expended under the program have been directed against Palestinians.
According to a Political-Military desk officer at the State Department, with whom I spoke on March 1, U.S. arms assistance is not politically conditioned. Thus the underlying agreement is silent on the occupation, settlements and Palestinian rights. Nor are there restrictions that would ban phosphorus bullets (used in the 2014 Gaza war) or cluster bombs.
An unanswered question is how the State and Defense Departments have managed to get around the so-called “Leahy Law” in the face of Israeli oppression of Palestinians. Embodied in both the Foreign Assistance Act and annual defense appropriations, the Leahy provisions ban security assistance to any country “that engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.” The State Department Human Rights Report for 2014 contains an expansive section on Israel that fails to treat the occupation, settlements and Gaza siege as gross violations of human rights.
U.S. arms aid to Israel is driven by Congress, almost all of whose members have enjoyed expense-paid junkets to Israel and/or generous campaign contributions from AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) or a related lobby. According to a February 2015 Gallop Poll, 62% of Americans, informed by a staunchly pro-Israel media, said their sympathies lie with Israel. Only 16% were sympathetic to the Palestinians.
The tendency of Congress (and Americans in general) to ignore Israeli assaults on Palestinian rights has allowed an expanding flow of unrestricted arms to the IDF—weapons and military equipment used to kill Palestinian civilians in the recent past and likely to do so again in the future.
With such complicity by the United States, it is no longer correct to refer to the Israeli occupation. What we have now is the Israel/U.S. occupation.