U.S. Aid to Israel: Why It's a Must

The critical results the $3 billion a year achieves.

Numerous American leaders over the decades have expressed their perception that Israel and the USA have a “special relationship,” [1] that Israel’s enemies are America’s enemies, and that American aid to Israel is money well spent. Most recently, these sentiments were articulated by  House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, Senator Harry Reid, Vice President Joe Biden, and President Barack Obama.  They continue to be in favor of the continued American financial support for Israel, amounting to about $3,000,000,000 per year in recent years. [2]

Yet critics of Israel complain that the USA gives too much money to Israel and that the “special relationship” is a liability for the USA. [3] These critics support their assessments with wildly exaggerated claims regarding the size of US aid to Israel, with accusations that Israel is bankrupting the USA, and with the warning that US money encourages Israeli obduracy, stokes the Israel-Arab conflict and generates anti-American sentiment in Muslim countries. In short, they blame Israel for America’s difficulties abroad.

While it is undeniable that the enemies of both the USA and Israel exploit American support for Israel to foment anti-American sentiment, it is a grave strategic error to place credence in such anti-Israel propaganda.  Yet that is what the critics do, with the apparent intent to undermine the “special relationship.”

Since US support is of vital importance to Israel’s security, an examination of these critics’ claims seems worthwhile.

There are five questions that arise in the context of US aid to Israel and these accusations:

1.) Why is there an Israel-USA “special relationship,” an alliance which includes generous American aid and political support at the UN and other international venues?

2.) What is the real number of US dollars in US aid to Israel?

3.) How do we know that the critics offer exaggerated assessments of the dollar amount and spurious claims regarding its political valence and liabilities?

4.) What is the value to the USA of its generous financial support to Israel, compared to the value of similar aid to those countries which are Israel’s avowed enemies?

5.) What is the real impact of the USA’s “special relationship” with Israel upon America’s position in the Middle East and in the broader Muslim world?

The following article will address the first question.  The remaining four will be answered in subsequent articles.

At the most obvious level, Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. Democracies are an endangered species, so they can be expected to support one another and to have mutually beneficial relationships stronger than those between democracies and totalitarian states.

The U.S.–Israel “special relationship” grows in part from the resonance of a common Bible and a host of Judeo-Christian features. As western democracies, Israel and the USA have shared strategic interests, shared civic and political values, and the personal, cultural, and political bonds that exist naturally between free peoples.  The supreme commander of NATO operations in Europe and head of the U.S. European Command (EUCOM), General John Craddock, speaking before the U.S. House Armed Services Committee in 2007, called Israel a “model state” and America’s closest ally in the Middle East.  He noted that Israel consistently and directly supports U.S. interests and U.S. policy in the region.

In fact, Israel is among the few countries in the world, and the only Middle Eastern state,  to consistently stand alongside the United States on strategic issues in the UN and in other venues for international cooperation. Israel votes with the USA in the UN about 94% of the time.  No other nation holds that record.

But amicable support alone cannot justify tens of billions of taxpayer dollars in US aid to Israel. Happily, the USA has two very strong reasons to conclude that money to Israel is an investment for which the American people get a truly excellent return.

First, there is a financial reciprocity in this “special relationship” quite unlike any other that the USA has. Much, and in many years most, of the money that the USA gives Israel has been used by Israel to purchase goods and services, both military and civilian, from the USA, so that American aid money is recycled back into the American economy. Nearly 90% of US aid to Israel is military, and Israel spends about 75% of that buying U.S. goods.  This aid has been described as an indirect American subsidy to U.S. arms manufacturers.

But, second, there is more to this issue than merely Israel’s using American money to help the US economy. Israel is a very powerful military ally as well. The security cooperation between Israel and the United States is vast, and Israel has consistently been a major security asset to the United States, an asset upon which America can rely, far more so than have been other state recipients of American largesse.[4]

In the field of military intelligence Israel is arguably the world’s leading expert in collecting intelligence on terrorist groups and in counter-terrorism. It provides intelligence and know-how to the U.S.  According to Maj. Gen. George J. Keegan Jr., former head of U.S. Air Force intelligence, America’s military defense capability “owes more to the Israeli intelligence input than it does to any single source of intelligence,” the worth of which input, he estimated, exceeds “five CIAs.” He further stated that between 1974 and 1990, Israel received $18.3 billion in U.S. military grants. During the same period Israel provided the U.S. with $50-$80 billion in intelligen­ce, research and developmen­t savings, and Soviet weapons systems captured and transferre­d to the U.S.[5]

Israeli and American intelligence agencies continuously exchange information, analyses, and operational experience in counterterrorism and counter-proliferation. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and its Israeli counterpart share technical know-how in defending against terrorist attacks, countering unconventional weapons and cyber-threats, and combating the drug trade. On the battlefield, Israeli armaments protect Bradley and Stryker units from rocket-propelled grenades, while Israeli-made drones and reconnaissance devices allow for safe surveillance of hostile territory. U.S. fighter aircraft and helicopters incorporate Israeli concepts and components, as do modern-class U.S. warships. The IDF has furnished U.S. forces with its expertise in the detection and neutralization of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the largest cause of American casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Former Supreme Commander of  NATO and U.S. Secretary of State Gen. Alexander Haig (deceased) described Israel as “the largest US aircraft carrier, which does not require even one US soldier, cannot be sunk, is the most cost-effective and battle-tested, located in a region which is critical to vital US interests. If there would not be an Israel, the US would have to deploy real aircraft carriers, along with tens of thousands of US soldiers, which would cost tens of billions of dollars annually, dragging the US unnecessarily into local, regional and global conflicts.”[6]

In short, support for Israel has been a very profitable investment for the USA. Israel is an ideal ally for America in the Middle East. Haifa is one of the safest and most hospitable ports for the 6th Fleet, a dependable base for pre-positioning emergency military stores for deployment in neighboring countries, and a base for close-by sophisticated medical services.

In contrast, the problems the United States faces in the Persian Gulf today stem from the fact that it does not have an Israel equivalent there.  Absent a strong, loyal, and dependable ally in the region, the United States has had to deploy, redeploy, and redeploy again, at a cost that easily exceeds a trillion dollars.  Repeated U.S. administrations came to power predisposed to associate with the Arab world and to disassociate from Israel; but in the end, most came to acknowledge the worth of Israel as a steadfast ally in a volatile region.  From Lyndon Johnson on, most have come to see that US support for Israel has been the most cost-effective national security investment for America since World War II and the Marshal Plan.

In sum, Israel’s enemies are America’s enemies.  Israel fights the same Islamo-fascist terrorism that brought down our World Trade Center, blew up a large chunk of the Pentagon, killed more than 3,000 innocent American civilians, and cost our economy as yet unascertained billions of dollars.  Israeli-American strategic cooperation is not a given, it is not automatic, it is not a knee-jerk reaction to shared values, and it is not a panacea; but without it the world would be a much more dangerous place.  Israel helps keep America safe.

At $3 billion a year, that’s an incredible bargain.


[1] See http://www.mythsandfacts.com/NOQ_OnlineEdition/Chapter17/unitedstatesisr… for a detailed history of the development of the “special relationship.”

[2] For these and others see  http://www.aipac.org/~/media/Publications/Policy%20and%20Politics/AIPAC%….

[3] The most infamous of late being Walt and Mearsheimer, http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n06/john-mearsheimer/the-israel-lobby (and see http://www.jcpa.org/JCPA/Templates/ShowPage.asp?DBID=1&LNGID=1&TMID=111&… for a very thorough rebuttal); and Thomas Stauffer in The Christian Science Monitor,  Dec. 9, 2002,
http://www.csmonitor.com/2002/1209/p16s01-wmgn.html (and see http://honestreporting.com/u-s-aid-to-israel/?mobile=1 for a very thorough rebuttal); Stephen Zunes in The Jerusalem Fund, Feb., 2001, http://www.thejerusalemfund.org/www.thejerusalemfund.org/carryover/pubs/… Scott McConnel, “The Special Relationship with Israel: Is it worth the Cost?,” Middle East Policy Council Archive, http://www.mepc.org/journal/middle-east-policy-archives/special-relation… and a variety of articles over the last few years condemning Israel and urging the USA to end its support, financial and political, for Israel in The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (WRMEA), and especially the August, 2008 edition, http://www.highbeam.com/publications/the-washington-report-on-middle-eas….

[4] For a detailed analysis of the history of American aid to Israel, its substantial increase after 1970, and the role of our government’s hard-headed, logical, and fact-based analysis of the strategic value of the “special relationship” in the realms of military intelligence, ordnance and operations, see A. F. K. Organsi, “The $36 Billion Bargain: Strategy and Politics in U.S. Assistance to Israel,” New York, Columbia University Press, 1990.  And for a review see http://www.danielpipes.org/604/the-36-billion-bargain-strategy-and-polit….

[5] For a detailed analysis of decades of Israeli intelligence support to the USA, see Wolf Blitzer, “Between Washington and Jerusalem,” New York, Oxford University Press, 1986, and the New York Times review for a summary at http://www.nytimes.com/1986/03/09/books/better-than-5-cia-s.html.  For one example among many: In August 1966, the Mossad recruited an Iraqi pilot who defected and flew a Soviet MiG 21 to Israel. Israel shared this intelligence coup with the U.S.  Israel furnished many whole Soviet weapons systems, like 122-mm and 130-mm artillery and a T-72 tank, to the U.S.  For a detailed list of such coups see http://www.jcpa.org/JCPA/Templates/ShowPage.asp?DBID=1&LNGID=1&TMID=111&…

[6] And Secretary of State Hague was not exaggerating.  According to one professional assessment from July, 1986:

“Washington has shown interest in Israeli help in possible air and sea battles with Soviet forces in the eastern Mediterranean. The growing strength of the Soviet Navy and declining political reliability of Premier Andreas Papandreou’s anti-American regime in Greece has increased the importance of Israeli cooperation in this vital area…. The Israeli Air Force has had extensive combat experience over the Mediterranean and could play a dominant role in the area south of Turkey and east of Crete.  A U.S. Navy study [DML: not available to the public] reportedly has concluded that Israel’s Air Force alone could destroy the entire Soviet Fleet in the eastern Mediterranean. By one estimate, Israel could launch 20 times as many air attack sorties as an aircraft carrier air wing or 12 times as many air combat sorties. Even if only 10 percent of the Israeli Air Force were committed to sea control missions, Israel could project more air power than could a U.S. carrier in the eastern Mediterranean (author’s emphasis). …. The small Israeli Navy, meanwhile, is a modern force comprised of fast missile boats that pack considerable punch. .… Even if Israel sits out a military conflict with the Soviet Union, Jerusalem could make a major difference in the outcome by permitting U.S. warplanes to use Israeli air bases.”

http://www.policyarchive.org/handle/10207/bitstreams/9275.pdf and cf. also http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/1986/07/americas-security-stake….

Israel’s military capacity has only grown since then. For a broad over-view of Israel’s strategic value to the USA see: http://www.aipac.org/israel-and-the-us and http://www.aipac.org/israel-and-the-us/military-partnership.