Walter Pincus, in a column for the Washington Post, writes: As the country reviews its spending on defense and foreign assistance, it is time to examine the funding the United States provides to Israel.
Let me put it another way: Nine days ago, the Israeli cabinet reacted to months of demonstrations against the high cost of living there and agreed to raise taxes on corporations and people with high incomes ($130,000 a year). It also approved cutting more than $850 million, or about 5 percent, from its roughly $16 billion defense budget in each of the next two years.
If Israel can reduce its defense spending because of its domestic economic problems, shouldn’t the United States — which must cut military costs because of its major budget deficit — consider reducing its aid to Israel?
First, a review of what the American taxpayer provides to Israel.
In late March 2003, just days after the invasion of Iraq, President George W. Bush requested the approval of $4.7 billion in military assistance for more than 20 countries that had contributed to the conflict or the broader fight against terrorism. Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkey were on that list.
A major share of the money, $1 billion, went to Israel, “on top of the $2.7 billion regular fiscal year 2003 assistance and $9 billion in economic loans guaranteed by the U.S. government over the next three years,” according to a 2003 study by the Congressional Research Service (CRS).
Then in 2007, the Bush administration worked out an agreement to raise the annual military aid grant, which had grown to $2.5 billion, incrementally over the next 10 years. This year, it has reached just over $3 billion. That is almost half of all such military assistance that Washington gives out each year and represents about 18 percent of the Israeli defense budget.
In addition, the military funding for Israel is handled differently than it is for other countries. Israel’s $3 billion is put almost immediately into an interest-bearing account with the Federal Reserve Bank. The interest, collected by Israel on its military aid balance, is used to pay down debt from earlier Israeli non-guaranteed loans from the United States.
Another unique aspect of the assistance package is that about 25 percent of it can be used to buy arms from Israeli companies. No other country has that privilege, according to a September 2010 CRS report.
The U.S. purchases subsidize the Israeli arms business, but Washington maintains a veto over sales of Israeli weapons that may contain U.S. technology.
Look for a minute at the bizarre formula that has become an element of U.S.-Israel military aid, the so-called qualitative military edge (QME). Enshrined in congressional legislation, it requires certification that any proposed arms sale to any other country in the Middle East “will not adversely affect Israel’s qualitative military edge over military threats to Israel.”
In 2009 meetings with defense officials in Israel, Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher “reiterated the United States’ strong commitment” to the formula and “expressed appreciation” for Israel’s willingness to work with newly created “QME working groups,” according to a cable of her meetings that was released by WikiLeaks.
The formula has an obvious problem. Because some neighboring countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are U.S. allies but also considered threats by Israel, arms provided to them automatically mean that better weapons must go to Israel. The result is a U.S.-generated arms race.
MJ Rosenberg writes: Aid to Israel is virtually the only program, domestic or foreign, that is exempt from every budget cutting proposal pending in Congress. No matter that our own military is facing major cuts along with Medicare, cancer research and hundreds of other programs, Israel’s friends in Congress in both parties make sure that aid to Israel is protected at current levels.
Back when I was a Congressional staffer, I was part of the process by which aid to Israel was secured. Every member of the Congressional Appropriations Committees sent a “wish list” to the chairman of the committee telling him or her which programs he wanted funded and by what amounts. Each letter reflected the particular interest of a particular Representative or Senator and of his own district or state.
There was always one exception: aid to Israel, which apparently is a local issue for every legislator. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) would provide the list of Israel’s aid requirements for the coming year and, with few if any exceptions, every letter would include the AIPAC language. Not a punctuation mark would be changed.
At the end of the process, the AIPAC wish list would become law of the land. (Woe to any Member of Congress who dared to resist the AIPAC juggernaut).
That is how it has been for decades and not even the current economic crisis is likely to change it. On this issue, Congress is hopeless and will remain so as long as its members rely so heavily on campaign contributions (PAC or individual) delivered by AIPAC.
JTA reports: Mitt Romney said he would increase defense assistance to Israel, raise the U.S. military profile near Iran and recognize Israel as a Jewish state.