The late Sen. Everett McKinley Dirksen, a gravel-throated Republican from Illinois, did say “a billion here, a billion there,” but apparently not “and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.”
U.S. aid to Israel — $124.3 billion (not adjusted for inflation) since 1948 — qualifies as real money. Israel has received more aid than any other country since World War II and today is the largest annual recipient; almost all of that money is military aid, as economic assistance was phased out a decade ago.
(According to polls, the average American believes that more than 25 percent of the federal budget goes to foreign aid. The actual figure is less than 1 percent.)
The 10-year memorandum of understanding by which Israel receives $3.1 billion a year (and several hundred million more for joint projects, such as missile defense) ends after fiscal year 2018. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told visiting Republican lawmakers that he wants to conclude a new 10-year deal before President Barack Obama leaves office in January.
The United States reportedly is offering a choice: a lower figure with the ability to ask for more or a higher figure with no extras, barring an emergency. Annual amounts ranging from $3.7 billion to $4 billion are attributed to American sources, while Israel is said to seek $5 billion.
So it was eye-catching when The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Congressman David Scott told a closed-door session at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference in Washington that $7 billion should be earmarked for Israel.
The Democrat represents the 13th District, which arcs outside Interstate 285, taking in Douglas County and parts of Henry, Clayton, Cobb and Fulton counties. The former member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who opposes the Iran nuclear weapons deal, worries that a bar on seeking more aid would put Israel at a disadvantage.
“A substantial increase in the new MOU is necessary in order to secure funding for programs traditionally funded outside of the MOU,” Scott told the Atlanta Jewish Times. “We cannot backtrack on this unfortunate deal with Iran; we can only move forward. And the best way to move forward is to ensure that our Israeli allies are prepared to meet any threat. In order to ensure that Israel receives enough funding, it is important to begin negotiations by setting a high bar in order to guarantee that the final number is an adequate amount. If we granted Iran, the leading state sponsor of terrorism, access to $150 billion, why shouldn’t we give Israel, our staunch ally, access to $70 billion (over 10 years)?”
(The Treasury Department maintains that Iran will receive $55 billion from assets frozen as part of sanctions against Tehran, not the $150 billion figure frequently cited, because the remainder is committed to paying various Iranian debts.)
The chief of Israel’s air force recently warned that Israel’s military edge is threatened by a buildup of weaponry elsewhere in the Middle East.
“U.S. military aid for Israel has been designed to maintain Israel’s ‘qualitative military edge’ (QME) over neighboring militaries. The rationale for QME is that Israel must rely on better equipment and training to compensate for being much smaller geographically and in terms of population than its potential adversaries,” reads a June 2015 report by the Congressional Research Service that details perks in Israel’s aid arrangement.
Nearly three-quarters of U.S. aid to Israel finances purchases of American-made hardware. Israel uses the remainder to support its own defense industry. U.S. aid accounts for about 20 percent of Israel’s defense budget.
A University of Massachusetts study in 2012 estimated that every $1 billion of defense spending contributed to 8,430 jobs. By that formula, aid to Israel supports more than 26,000 American jobs.
“Furthermore, Israeli battlefield use of American equipment helps the U.S. military improve its hardware and tactics. This deal is not only good for Israel; this deal is good for the U.S. economy and military,” Scott said.
The Arms Export Control Act requires that Israel (and other nations) use U.S. equipment for “legitimate self-defense.” Israel and the Palestinians differ over Israeli compliance with that provision.
“No matter how you view the situation in the Middle East, all parties desire peace. However, I believe that peace comes through strength. A strong MOU is a long-term investment in peace because peace will not be made without a strong Israel,” Scott said. “In regards to Palestine, I would point out that the United States is the leading provider of bilateral development assistance to the Palestinian people and has provided over $5 billion in aid since 1994.”
Scott is confident that taxpayers would support more than doubling aid to Israel. “You don’t have to be Jewish to support Israel. Although I have met with concerned constituents that happened to be Jewish, I have also heard support from people of all backgrounds,” he said. “No matter the political party or demographic, the American people’s support for Israel remains strong.”