Hailing the new 10-year, $38 billion Memorandum of Understanding between the United States and Israel on U.S. security aid, President Barack Obama couldn’t pass up the opportunity to chastise the Jewish state for failing to secure a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The U.S. commitment to Israel’s security, Obama said in a prepared statement as officials from both countries signed the agreement last week, “has been unwavering and is based on a genuine and abiding concern for the welfare of the Israeli people and the future of the State of Israel. It is because of this same commitment to Israel and its long-term security that we will also continue to press for a two-state solution … despite the deeply troubling trends on the ground that undermine this goal.”
Obama’s statement, and some of the terms of the memorandum, reflect everything that Israel’s supporters find so irritating about the administration – its condescension toward Israel, its confusion about the region and its ill-advised efforts to reshape U.S. relations with regional allies and adversaries.
Any new 10-year security agreement between the United States and its closest ally in that turbulent region should herald warm feelings and a hearty sense of accomplishment in both capitals, but the atmospherics around this agreement are fueling lots of resignation, bitterness and second guessing.
At first blush, the memorandum reflects the close ties between Washington and Jerusalem that long predate Obama. At $38 billion, or $3.8 billion a year for 10 years starting in 2018, it surpasses the $31 billion of its expiring predecessor and represents the single largest U.S. security package ever proffered for any nation.
But dig below the top-line numbers, and you find terms and restrictions that belie the boasts of Obama and other top U.S. officials about “unwavering” commitments and “genuine and abiding” concerns.
For starters, the new agreement includes $500 million a year for missile defense, which Washington has been providing outside its current package, not as part of it. If you add the $500 million to the current $3.1 billion annual payment, total annual U.S. security aid to Israel is $3.6 billion. Thus, the $3.8 billion annual payment under the new agreement represents only about a 5 percent increase – and that doesn’t account for inflation.
The new agreement also reduces Jerusalem’s flexibility to spend the apportioned money as it sees fit, eliminating an “off-shore procurement” provision that currently lets Israel invest about 26 percent of the funds in its own defense industry, rather than spend all the funds to buy arms from the United States.
Moreover, the $38 billion represents a ceiling on U.S. security aid to Israel, one which Obama went to extraordinary lengths to impose on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his successors. He forced Jerusalem to agree not to lobby Congress for more money than the memorandum provides, and also to return any additional dollars that a future president and Congress give to Israel.
Whether a future president, Congress or Israeli leader will honor such a restriction is an open question. Obama himself ignored an agreement between President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon related to Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza. Nevertheless, the stipulation is already raising hackles on Capitol Hill, where support for Israel is far less ambiguous, especially among Republicans.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, who chairs the subcommittee on the Senate Appropriations Committee that allocates foreign aid, decried the agreement’s funding and restrictions, telling inFOCUS Quarterly that he will seek another $1.5 billion for Israel this year. That figure, he notes, represents just 1 percent of the $150 billion in sanctions relief that the U.S.-led global nuclear deal with Iran will give a regime that threatens to destroy the Jewish state.
The new memorandum, moreover, comes amid rising dangers for Israel that extend far beyond the controversial nuclear deal, mocking both U.S. claims about the historic nature of this package and Obama’s insistence that Israel’s true security lies in a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Syria’s ongoing civil war has become a training ground for the Islamic State group and other Israel-hating terror groups. Russia is using its military to prop up Syria’s dictator, Bashar Assad, who is both a historic ally of the Kremlin and Iran’s long-time partner in sponsoring anti-Israeli terrorists. Iran itself is reaping sanctions relief under the nuclear deal that will enable it to fund those terrorists far more robustly. Meanwhile, its terrorist proxy, Hezbollah, is adding to the 100,000-plus rockets it can fire into Israel from southern Lebanon.
Far more than the Israeli-Palestinian deadlock, those are the dangers that lie at the heart of Israel’s security needs – and those are the reasons why reliable, long-term U.S. security aid remains so crucial to the Jewish state.
Lawrence J. Haas, a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, is the author of the new book Harry and Arthur: Truman, Vandenberg, and the Partnership That Created the Free World.