A Sign of US Commitment

Viewpoints, October 2016
Prof. Eytan Gilboa


The new US-Israel military agreement is likely to have positive effects on Washington’s standing both in the Middle East and internationally

On September 14, the US and Israel signed a $38 billion 10-year military aid agreement. Termed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) it renews the existing agreement signed a decade ago, and will go into effect in 2018.

The State Department called it “the single largest pledge of bilateral military assistance in US history.” The deal’s critics argue that it encompasses too much of the total American aid to the entire world. Nominally, the new sum represents an increase of about 23 percent over the previous package. Taking inflation into account however, the gap between the previous and the new total is much smaller.

American military aid to Israel is an investment in peace and security rather than a gift. Aid implies no expected returns except in reputation and favourable diplomatic support. Investment means hard returns. Indeed, Israel significantly reciprocates both in military and diplomatic terms.

Israel provides the US with information about the effectiveness of weapons systems, develops innovative military technology such as missile defense systems and border surveillance technology and shares highly valuable intelligence and battle-proven anti-terrorism doctrines.

Furthermore, substantially much more than any recipient of American aid, Israel fully supports the US positions in international organizations such as the UN.  While most American military assistance isn’t popular among the US public, aid to Israel is. This is why Congress, which reflects public opinion, often requests and approves sums larger than those offered by the White House.

US President Barack Obama wanted very much to conclude the agreement before his departure from the White House. Despite, or even because of the many disagreements he has had with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he wished to be remembered as a president who enormously cared about Israel’s national security.

 Israel's top military purchase from the US: The Israel Air Force's first F-35 'Adir' rolls out at Lockheed Martin's Texas plant, June 27; Credit: Beth Steel / Lockheed Martin.

Israel’s top military purchase from the US: The Israel Air Force’s first F-35 ‘Adir’ rolls out at Lockheed Martin’s Texas plant, June 27; Credit: Beth Steel / Lockheed Martin.

Netanyahu hesitated for several reasons. He had wanted a much greater amount, about $5 billion, citing the modernization of Iran’s conventional armed forces, and the increase in military supplies to America’s Arab allies, which was promised as a means to offset the nuclear deal with Iran. He also believed that Obama would use the MOU to apply pressure on Israel to make concessions in negotiations with the Palestinians. Finally, the MOU requires an Israeli commitment to refrain from asking Congress to fund special projects, as well as gradual phasing out what is called the “Off-shore Procurement Policy,” which had allowed Israel to spend some of the aid at home, rather than only purchasing from the American defence industry.

“Israel significantly reciprocates both in military and diplomatic terms”

Despite these reservations, Netanyahu finally decided to sign the deal with Obama, and not wait for the next US president. Two former Ministers of Defense who had served in his governments, Ehud Barak and Moshe Ya’alon, argued that Netanyahu could have gotten a much better deal, had he refrained from his fierce battle against the Iran nuclear deal. Today, they are his rivals and in the absence of sufficient evidence, their criticism seems to have been motivated more by political interests and less by objective criteria. In any event, the MOU is an excellent agreement for both sides.

The agreement is likely to have positive effects on US standing both in the Middle East and internationally.  The Iran nuclear deal, the inconsistent policies towards the “Arab Spring” and the civil war in Syria, the late and limited responses to the ISIS’s horrible atrocities in Iraq and Syria, and the weak response to the Russian military intervention in Syria, all have significantly eroded American power and influence in the Middle East.

The new MOU sends a message to both US allies and enemies in the region: Washington does not intend to disengage from the region; it is still a reliable ally and fulfils its security obligations and commitments. This message is important, especially in view of the Russian advances in the region and the present widening crisis between Obama and Vladimir Putin.

Professor Eytan Gilboa was a founding Director of the School of Communication and the Center for International Communication at Bar-Ilan University, and currently is Chair and Academic Director of the IPD Forum.