American military aid is the cornerstone of Israeli defense policy. Not just because of the money itself, which represents a significant portion of the Israel Defense Forces’ budget, but because of the close-knit relationship with the world’s preeminent superpower, which allows Israel to lean on its capabilities. Intrinsically, this aid is also a guarantee of Israel’s security in the Middle East.
This aid first began during the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Eventually, Israel received monetary grants, which over time were regularized and expanded under various circumstances. The fundamental consideration for American decision-makers has always been to maintain Israel’s military edge against its enemies in the region.
Thus, besides money the United States has also provided Israel with weapons platforms that are more sophisticated than those that it gives to other countries in the region. For example, the F-15 and F-16 fighter jets in the 1980s, and also the F-35s today.
The United States has received a return on its investment. Not only has it given them a stable and democratic forward base of operations in a fragile and volatile region, but also an advanced testing ground for their weapons systems, which helped them develop impressive superiority over Soviet systems. As a result, the United States was able to point to the performance of these weapons in the IDF’s hands to boost sales across the globe.
Even in periods of diplomatic tension between Washington and Jerusalem, this aid never ceased or wavered. Quite the opposite: The current aid package, which began last October and will span the next decade, was confirmed by the Obama administration at the height of tensions with the Netanyahu government over Iran as proof of the United States’ unreserved support for Israel. The brunt of this aid package ($33 billion over 10 years) is earmarked for procurement; $5 billion is for missile defense plans, which Israel was required to match.
The current aid package stipulates that U.S. military industries will gradually decrease until a complete halt and a reciprocal procurement from Israeli defense industries. This means that many Israeli workers could lose their jobs, and Israeli defense companies will have to open plants in the United States to be eligible for American procurement. The process could make Israeli defense companies less strong and independent, and consequently make the IDF more dependent on weapons systems that it can’t help design, develop or manufacture. The government and defense establishment have to be cognizant of these potential ramifications and provide a suitable response as soon as possible.
On the other hand, an assured 10-year budget provides stability and allows the defense establishment to plan ahead. Unlike Israel’s own domestic defense budget, which is often subject to whims and cuts that undermine budgetary stability, the U.S. money is set in stone and the IDF can lean on it to equip itself in a variety of ways. Here, too, it is incumbent on the government to provide vital supplements: If it fails to provide the IDF with long-term budgetary stability, the army could again find itself using U.S. aid money to buy uniforms, sugar and ink for office printers.
Several proposals have been raised over the years to ease away from U.S. aid and the dependence it naturally generates, although no such proposal is currently on the table. Such proposals are not motivated by financial considerations; Israel is a regional power, which should be able to fund its own army without the need for money from others. This is in no way a show of disrespect to the consistent and generous flow of funds from Washington, but rather a demonstration of Israel’s awareness that the primary advantage lies in the close relationship American aid facilitates between the countries, alongside operational and technological cooperation and intelligence sharing, which unmistakably signals America’s firm and unshakeable support for Israel.
Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for “Israel Hayom.”
This column first appeared on Israel Hayom.