Middle East History: It Happened in April; Sen. Byrd Revealed Total U.S. Aid to Israel in 1992

By Neff, Donald | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May 31, 1994 | Go to article overview

Middle East History: It Happened in April; Sen. Byrd Revealed Total U.S. Aid to Israel in 1992


Neff, Donald, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


MIDDLE EAST HISTORY: IT HAPPENED IN APRIL; Sen. Byrd Revealed Total U.S. Aid to Israel in 1992

It was two years ago, April 1, 1992, when Democratic Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia detailed for the first time on the Senate floor the vast array of aid and special benefits that Israel receives from the United States.(1) Although Israel has emerged as the largest recipient of U.S. aid and other special favors, Byrd's carefully prepared speech was the first-- and only--major delineation of the increasingly complex and costly relations America has with Israel. No other senator or congressman or executive branch official has ever reported to the American people the full details of aid and assistance that the United States provides to Israel. Despite the often astonishing revelations provided by Byrd, his remarks were generally ignored by the media.

Yet his remarks were as dramatic as the figures he cited and would have made headlines about any other country. To take just three: "Beyond the massive economic and military aid, however, in our so-called strategic relations with Israel, we have served as a protector almost in the same sense as the government of the United States would protect one of our 50 states."

At another point, he said: "We should wake up to the reality which has been slow to dawn on many, including our own Pentagon, that the Cold War is over and the real threat to stability in the Middle East lies in the tension between Israel and its Arab neighbors. And that tension only increases as a result of the continued expansion by Israel of settlements in the occupied territories." He also said: "We have poured foreign aid into Israel for decades at rates and terms given to no other nation on earth. And we are the only nation to have done so."

To support the latter statement, Byrd revealed that between 1949 and 1991, total U.S. aid to Israel amounted to $53 billion, equal to 13 percent of all U.S. economic and military foreign aid given during that period. Since the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, the amount totaled $40.1 billion, equal to 21.5 percent of all U.S. aid, including all multilateral as well as bilateral aid. By contrast, the Marshall Plan to rebuild Western Europe after World War II cost only some $12 billion.(2)

Starting in 1985, all aid was converted from loans to cash grants, meaning that since then Israel has not had to pay back any money except interest on pre-1985 loans. In 1987, formal economic and military aid to Israel settled into a yearly grant of $3 billion. But it has routinely exceeded that. Byrd noted that in 1979 the aid total was $4.9 billion. In 1985 it reached $4.1 billion and in 1991 nearly $4 billion. But, added Byrd, "Despite this unmatched foreign aid program, this is only part of the story. Israel derives many other benefits, both direct and indirect, from its special relationship with the United States."

Byrd reported that in addition to Israel's regular economic and military aid, it also received funds in 1991 and 1992 under such programs as the American Schools and Hospitals Grant Program, representing $2.7 million for 1991; $7 million for Arab-Israeli cooperative programs, of which approximately half is spent in Israel; $42 million for joint research and development on the Arrow antitactical ballistic missile follow-on program. This amount was increased to $60 million in the fiscal year 1992 Defense Appropriations Act; also, authority was given Israel to use up to $475 million of its military aid in Israel instead of spending it in the United States.

Byrd observed that "although the president has the authority to allow countries to engage in non-United States procurement in certain limited cases, Israel is the only country that receives specific legislative authority and a designated dollar amount for such procurement; moreover, priority over every other country, except Turkey, to receive excess defense articles; additionally a major new petroleum reserve of 4. …

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