Understanding US Foreign Aid to Israel

The ties that bind the US-Israel relationship have been the subject of intense scrutiny over the years. The economic and military aid provided to Israel by the United States has been analyzed by experts, chronicled by historians and been the basis for op-eds by pundits, peers and politicians.

Through it all, the main messages remain the same: the United States-Israel relationship remains solid with its base in bipartisan shared values and the shared strategic interests of both nations.

US aid to Israel: The numbers

American foreign aid amounts to less than a single percentage point of the American economy. Foreign aid and foreign military support remains a cornerstone of American foreign policy and Israel but one of many nations on the receiving end.

For 2017, fiscal data published on the official American government website showed that out of a total of $49 billion in US foreign aid Israel received $3.2 billion. In the same year Arab and Muslim countries received more than $20 billion of American taxpayer money. The biggest recipients were Afghanistan with $5.7 billion followed by Kuwait with $4.5 billion and Iraq with $3.7 billion.

The US used to provide Israel with economic aid as its infrastructure and economy developed. However, that aid did its job and was phased out by 2008 when Israel joined the ranks of fully industrialized nations. The “startup nation” is considered an economic powerhouse with low unemployment and a high GDP.

The most recent US-Israel bilateral defense aid agreement was a 10-year package signed by President Barack Obama that provides military assistance until 2028. Obama had noted that the military aid stemmed not just in the need to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge over its foes, but from ties between the two nations that are steeped in common basic tenets.

“America’s commitment to Israel’s security flows from a deeper place — and that’s the values we share,” Obama said. “As two people who struggled to win our freedom against overwhelming odds, we understand that preserving the security for which our forefathers — and foremothers — fought must be the work of every generation. As two vibrant democracies, we recognize that the liberties and freedoms we cherish must be constantly nurtured. And as the nation that recognized the State of Israel moments after its independence, we have a profound commitment to its survival as a strong, secure homeland for the Jewish people.”

Tens of thousands of American combat troops are stationed at American military bases across the Middle East, but none of those bases are in Israel and no American combat troops are stationed in the Jewish state nor fight on its soil.

US aid to Israel: Reinvested in America

While it appears overtly generous, the $3.8 billion in annual military aid has many of the same strings that have always been attached that in reality result in most of the money staying in America. Some 75% of the budget is spent in the US where it supports defense industries and helps generate economic growth in America.

Most of Israel’s major weapons systems – especially those that power Israel’s air force including the new F-35 stealth fighters – are made in America. Israel benefits from leading edge American technology, but the jobs that produce those weapons are American.

Made in America: Israel’s F-35 stealth bomber
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Made in America: Israel’s F-35 stealth bomber

Reflecting shared values

Differences of opinion have always ridden the roller coaster of politics. Those differences include Representatives and Senators from both parties who at times have taken a different stance including on specific issues relating to Israel. However, despite the atmosphere on Capitol Hill, Democrats and Republicans remain united in their belief that America-Israel ties are bedrock solid and will remain so.

“We have a deep relationship and long-standing relationship with Israel,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Dem) told the Associated Press, saying the disagreements Democrats have with President Donald Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would not “stand in the way of our ongoing relationship.”

Israel is still the lone democracy in what American leaders consider to be a “dangerous neighborhood” of political upheaval and military threats. American administrations under both Democratic and Republican presidents have always acknowledged that and provided long-term military aid packages for Israel. Numerous votes in the House and Senate regarding support for Israel are perennially passed with strong bipartisan majorities.

US Capitol
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The US Capitol Building

Not just the government, the American military also puts a high value on its own relationship with its “close ally” Israel. During a visit to Israel America’s top general, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, talked of the close cooperation.

“It reflects the important relationship the United States has with Israel. Quite frankly one of the foundational elements of that relationship is our military-to-military relationship,” Dunford said. The Pentagon looks at the two sides as “key partners committed to peace and security in the Middle East region.”

Featured image: CC BY wisegie and CC0 Pixabay; F-35 via Wikimedia Commons;  US Capitol CC BY-NC-ND Kim Kowalewski;

Source material can be found at this site.

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