Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of Northern and Western Asia

U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel *

Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of Northern and Western Asia

U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel *

Article excerpt

U.S.-ISRAELI RELATIONS AND THE ROLE OF FOREIGN AID

For decades, the United States and Israel have maintained strong bilateral relations based on a number of factors, including strong domestic U.S. support for Israel; shared strategic goals in the Middle East (concern over Iran, Syria, Islamic extremism); shared democratic values; and historic ties dating from U.S. support for the creation of Israel in 1948. U.S. economic and military aid has been a major component in cementing and reinforcing these ties. Although there have been occasional differences over Israel's settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (prior to the 2005 disengagement) and Israeli arms sales to China, successive Administrations and many lawmakers have long considered Israel to be a reliable partner in the region, and U.S. aid packages for Israel have reflected this sentiment.

U.S. military aid has helped transform Israel's armed forces into one of the most technologically sophisticated militaries in the world. U.S. military aid for Israel has been designed to maintain Israel's -qualitative military edge" (QME) over neighboring militaries, since Israel must rely on better equipment and training to compensate for a manpower deficit in any potential regional conflict. U.S. military aid, a portion of which may be spent on procurement from Israeli defense companies, also has helped Israel build a domestic defense industry, which ranks as one of the top 10 suppliers of arms worldwide.

For many years, U.S. economic aid helped subsidize a lackluster Israeli economy, though since the rapid expansion of Israel's hi-tech sector in the 1 990s (sparked partially by U.S.-Israeli scientific cooperation), Israel is now considered a fully industrialized nation with an economy on par with some Western European countries. Consequently, Israel and the United States agreed to gradually phase out economic grant aid to Israel. In FY2008, Israel stopped receiving bilateral Economic Support Fund (ESF) grants. It had been a large-scale recipient of grant ESF assistance since 1971.

The use of foreign aid to help accelerate the Middle East peace process has had mixed results. The promise of U.S. assistance to Israel and Egypt during peace negotiations in the late 1970s enabled both countries to take the risks needed for peace, and may have helped convince them that the United States was committed to supporting their peace efforts. Promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace has proven to be a far greater challenge for U.S. policy makers, as most analysts consider foreign aid to be tangential to solving complex territorial issues and overcoming deeply rooted mistrust sown over decades.

Critics of U.S. aid policy, particularly some in the Middle East, argue that U.S. foreign aid exacerbates tensions in the region. Many Arab commentators insist that U.S. assistance to Israel indirectly causes suffering to Palestinians by supporting Israeli arms purchases. In the past, the United States reduced loan guarantees to Israel in opposition to continued settlement building, but it has not acted unilaterally to cut Israel's military or economic grant aid.

Qualitative Military Edge (QME)

Congress has taken measures to strengthen Israel's security and maintain its -qualitative military edge" over neighboring militaries, and successive administrations have routinely affirmed the U.S. commitment to strengthening Israel's QME. For years, no official or public U.S. definition of QME existed [1] In 2008, Congress passed legislation (P.L. 110-429, the Naval Vessel Transfer Act of 2008) that defines QME as:

the ability to counter and defeat any credible conventional military threat from any individual state or possible coalition of states or from non-state actors, while sustaining minimal damage and casualties, through the use of superior military means, possessed in sufficient quantity, including weapons, command, control, communication, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities that in their technical characteristics are superior in capability to those of such other individual or possible coalition of states or non-state actors. …

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