This was a rather startling headline which showed up at the Free Beacon. “Israelis Debate Future of U.S. Military Aid.” I wasn’t aware that there were any ongoing questions about our aid to Israel. We are, after all, their staunchest ally bar none. Was somebody talking about cutting aid to Israel?
Nope. As it turns out, some members of the Israeli government are debating asking us to end our military aid to them. Don’t feel bad if that leaves your head spinning because I felt the same way. But what they’re currently debating is actually a valid topic for discussion and it has nothing to do with our support for Israel waning. It’s purely a matter of protecting the local economy.
For most people, American aid to Israel is the measure of the “special relationship” between the two countries. AIPAC, the major pro-Israel lobby in the United States, considers its efforts to secure this aid its No. 1 priority. It was therefore surprising to hear senior Israeli officials in late May complain about American assistance, with one describing it as a drug addiction.
Their outburst centers around two innovations introduced into the 10-year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), the official name for the American aid agreement, which was negotiated between the Obama and Netanyahu administrations in 2016. The deal, which pledges an unprecedented $38 billion to Israel over a 10-year period, insists on two Israeli concessions: 1. That Israel spend 100 percent of the aid in the United States (Israel had been allowed to spend roughly 26 percent of U.S. aid on its own defense industry); and 2. Israel can’t go to Congress to ask for additional funds while the MOU is in effect.
The chief critic raising these objections is Eyal Younian, CFO of Israel Aerospace Industries. And his complaint isn’t entirely without merit. Under the current MOU we have with Israel, we give them a lot of money for their defense needs, but they are forced to spend 100% of it with American companies. That’s a pretty good deal for our defense industry since they have what is essentially a captive audience for customers and a guaranteed supply of cash. But just as we have a President who wants an America First strategy when it comes to trade deals, there are those in Israel who want to see an Israel First approach where the money could be spent with their own companies.
Mr. Younian is claiming that Israel’s aircraft industry may be entirely “lost” in the near future if they don’t back out of the aid deal and start pumping some cash into Israeli defense industry businesses. He clearly has a vested interest in the subject given his occupation, but as I said, he raises a valid point. The Obama administration made a very generous deal with Israel and, to the last president’s credit, he included a provision which helped American businesses. Well done, sir.
But if the weight of that clause is becoming an insufferable burden on our trusted ally, perhaps we should at least look at modifying it. I’m not saying we scrap the idea completely because it does provide a real and measurable benefit to United States employers. But perhaps we could ease off a tad? If the previous agreement allowed them to spend roughly a quarter of the military aid money domestically, that’s not such a bitter pill to swallow if it keeps Israel Aerospace Industries and their partners afloat. Even if we modified it to allow for 20% to be spent domestically that wouldn’t be all that terrible.
If Israel needs help which doesn’t even require increasing aid levels, it’s surly worth considering. And given the tight relationship between Donald Trump and Netanyahu, it sounds like the sort of deal we could ink in short order.