President Barack Obama’s administration likes to respond to criticism of the president’s policy of public separation from Israel and rift with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by pointing out that U.S.-Israeli security cooperation has never been stronger, which is true. But one sentence in a statement of administration policy Tuesday, June 14, reveals the vulnerability of those links.
In a wide-ranging critique of a Department of Defense appropriations bill before a vote in the House, the White House Office of Management and Budget singled out a proposed $455 million increase in the $145 million the administration wants to spend on procurement and research and development for Israel’s missile defense programs.
The administration statement included a veto threat if the bill passed without changes, although, given that the $600 million proposed for the Israeli anti-missile programs is just over 0.1 percent of the $517.1 billion defense budget, money for Israel isn’t likely to sink the legislation. The House certainly shrugged off the administration’s complaints, passing the bill June 16 without any of the requested changes.
AIPAC, which expressed deep disappointment at the administration’s statement, noted that Congress has boosted appropriations for U.S.-Israeli missile cooperation above administration requests every year for more than a decade — meaning under Republican and Democratic presidents.
“These cooperative programs — including the Arrow, David’s Sling, and Iron Dome — are critical for Israel’s defense against a growing array of missile threats and make an important contribution to U.S. missile defense programs,” AIPAC said in its statement.
The annual budget game enables members of Congress to score points with supporters of Israel — “Look, I helped boost funding for close defense cooperation” — without costing the administration anything. But JTA reports that this appears to be the first time an administration has spoken out against the increase.
Maybe the missile defense spending became an Obama target this year because it’s this president’s last chance to get certain policy positions on the record.
More likely, it’s part of the jostling between the two governments over a new 10-year memorandum of understanding on military aid to Israel. While both sides reportedly agree on increasing the annual defense aid from about $3 billion to something approaching $5 billion, they disagree on whether to include the missile programs within that annual total.
Now the missile spending is separate from the guaranteed aid, a situation Israel prefers because of the flexibility to adjust the total as needed. The Obama administration wants missile money included in the annual aid package.
The administration position makes sense, and Netanyahu has indicated his willingness to make the change in exchange for a big boost in the aid package.
But the bigger issue is Israel’s continuing position as a supplicant, forced to beg and plead for necessary U.S. military assistance and cooperation each year. The United States doesn’t treat other vital military allies as welfare cases, even though such NATO members as Greece and Turkey are Israel’s inferiors in terms of military capability, economic power and useful innovation.
The annual missile defense appropriation proves that the U.S. government recognizes the value of military cooperation with Israel and isn’t about to cut off that partnership, lest Chinese missiles wind up receiving some of that Start-Up Nation know-how.
It’s time for the United States to stop treating military appropriations for Israel as a gift and acknowledge that the spending is just as crucial to U.S. defense.