At a State Department ceremony on September 14 the United States and Israel signed a Memorandum of Understanding promising $38 billion in military aid to Israel over the ten years from 2019 to 2028. As the White House was quick to point out, it is the largest single military aid package ever pledged by the US to any country, demonstrating President Barack Obama’s “unshakable commitment to Israeli security.”
The coverage by the New York Times and other mainstream outlets evinced relief that Washington’s “special relationship” with Israel remains intact, despite the dormancy of US-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, the reported personal dislike between Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the determination of the Obama administration to strike a bargain with Iran regarding its nuclear research program over vociferous Israeli objections. In fact, those ties were never in peril, and the Iran deal does not represent a major shift in US grand strategy away from the twin alliances with Israel and Saudi Arabia.
It is true that the Memorandum of Understanding is not quite business as usual.
The bulk of the 2019-2028 money—$33 billion of it—is Foreign Military Financing (FMF), which by US law must be spent by the recipient nation on purchases of weaponry from American manufacturers. In the past Israel enjoyed a unique partial exemption from this requirement, allowing it to spend 26 percent of its aid dollars on arms made by Israeli firms. The set-aside helped Israel to become the seventh largest arms exporter in the world by 2011. Israel was also permitted to use the FMF funds to buy fuel. The new Memorandum closes those two loopholes.
In addition, Israel signed a side letter agreeing to return any more military aid dollars that Congress might appropriate in excess of the $3.1 billion per year laid out in the Memorandum currently in effect and not to lobby Congress for such extra boodle in the future. Neo-conservative darling Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), sure he discerned the White House’s hand behind this codicil, sputtered, “It is a level of antagonism against Israel that I can’t understand.”
Some independent commentators, as well, see in these measures the beginnings of an effort to cut the US-Israeli “special relationship” down to a bit less extraordinary size. Maybe, but this latest pact aimed at massive buildup of Israeli military capacity is not good news for the cause of peace and justice in the Middle East.
It can only enrich the parallel “special relationship” between Israel and US weapons makers, for instance. Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and their ilk have their own lobbying corps, of course, and they have an enduring interest in keeping Israel armed to the teeth. The end of Israel’s exemption from FMF rules—whereby American taxpayers subsidized the Israeli arms industry—simply routes more taxpayer dollars into American arms merchants’ coffers. It is a particularly pernicious form of corporate welfare.
Moreover, the expansion of military aid to Israel, along with the sales of warplanes and high explosives that Congress regularly approves, sends the message that Washington is content for Israel to remain a garrison state that need not resolve its remaining conflicts with its neighbors, chiefly the Palestinians. The White House press release on the Memorandum boasts of the $3 billion transferred under Obama for missile defense systems, which it claims saved “untold” lives in 2014 “when Israeli civilians were subjected to rocket fire.” There is no mention of the 1.8 million Gazans who have repeatedly endured withering Israeli bombardment using projectiles of US supply.
The new American-Israeli military aid package, in short, is another grim reminder that US stewardship of the Israeli-Palestinian file has functioned not only to frustrate peace but also to consolidate the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and deepen its structural violence.