US and World Politics

Israel: Living and Killing on U.S. Aid

 By Steven Katsineris

The USA has for a long time sought to promote itself as a mediator in the Palestine conflict and has tried many times to impose a peace process on the region. Yet despite sponsoring initiatives to try to resolve the Palestinian problem, the U.S. has repeatedly exposed its bias by again and again blocking any criticism of and measures against Israel at the UN. This support of Israeli policies has allowed Israel to continue to defy with impunity long standing UN resolutions that demand among other things, that Israel withdraw from occupied Palestinian territories, stop the construction of illegal Israeli settlements on subjugated Palestinian land and permit the return of Palestinian refugees.

The U.S. has continued this pattern of promoting peace talks, but repeatedly supporting Israel and shielding it from justified censure in the United Nations and other international forums. One such instance was on February 18, 2011, when the U.S. government vetoed a Security Council resolution condemning all Israeli settlements established since 1967 in the Palestinian territories as illegal. The resolution was co-sponsored by over 120 of the UNs 192 member states and the other 14 members of the Security Council.

The UN resolution would have again condemned illegal Israeli settlements and demanded an immediate halt to all settlement building; the U.S. action angered Arab countries and Palestinian supporters around the world. The 14 other Security Council members voted in favor of the resolution in the vote, reflecting the wide support for the Palestinian-backed draft, which had over 100 co-sponsors. The veto represented the U.S. governments first for a Security Council resolution since President Obama came into office. 

The Palestinians insisted they would not resume peace talks until Israel halted its settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which they want as a capital. Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed just weeks after they restarted in September that year because Israel ended a ten-month moratorium on settlement construction.

Right from the start the creation of the state of Israel was a key project of the USA. In November 1947 the U.S. used extraordinary diplomatic, political and economic pressure on various countries to support a policy of partitioning Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. The U.S. exerted the most intense force on Haiti, Liberia, the Philippines, China, Ethiopia, Greece and France among others to get them to vote for partition. The United Nations voted on the 29th of November and the partition plan was approved by 33 votes to 13, with ten abstentions. The United States was the leading champion of partition and exerted the full weight of its influence, so that the resolution was passed.

The practical effect of the U.S. policy on Palestine, with the UN’s wealthiest and most powerful member state putting extra-ordinary pressure on other countries was to have the Palestinians lose over 60 percent of their country in terms of area, including their only port, Haifa, as well as Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Following the partition resolution Arab protests and rebellion broke out in Palestine. The Palestinian population was left to face the harsh power of a strong, well-armed military and paramilitary force of the Zionist state. Due in large part to American policies, the Palestinian Arabs, were about to begin their ordeal of dispossession, displacement and for many, exile.

For Israel, U.S. military and political assistance is a crucial Israeli lifeline. The reality is that the USA remains Israel’s staunchest ally and the support that Israel receives from the U.S. is not just political and diplomatic, but the U.S. also provides extensive military and economic assistance. In fact the USA contributes an estimated $5 billion annually to Israel in various diverse forms. 

Israel’s reliance on U.S. assistance has grown steadily since the 1974 Yom Kippur war, which exhausted Israel’s military stockpiles and left the country staggering under a huge burden of debt. In the three years following the war, the United States poured about $4.6 billion in military aid into the Israeli Defense Forces, more than triple the total for the previous 25 years of Israel’s existence. Economic aid from the U.S. grew at an equivalent rate.  

Assistance increased again in 1979, as part of the Camp David peace accords between Israel and Egypt. During this period, the bulk of Israel’s military aid was provided in the form of long-term loans guaranteed by the U.S. government. Most U.S. loan recipients must repay those debts within ten years. Israel was given 30 years. 

In 1987, twenty years after Israel took over the Palestinian territories in the 1967 Six-Day War, massive protests erupted across the occupied territories. In the then Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip, the first demonstrations of the Palestinian uprising1 (the Intifada or “shaking off” in Arabic) began one day after an Israeli military vehicle crashed into a truck carrying Palestinian workers in the Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza, killing four and wounding ten. Palestinians were enraged by the incident and on December 9 they took to the streets in protest, burning tires, throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at Israeli police and troops. In the six years of the Palestinian uprising, known as the First Intifada between 1987 and 1993 over 1,300 Palestinians were killed, 120,000 wounded and 600,000 jailed.

In Jabalia, an Israeli army patrol car fired on Palestinian demonstrators throwing stones killing a 17-year-old and wounding 16 others. Half-a-million Palestinians took to the streets to demand an end to the Israeli occupation. And 80,000 Israeli soldiers were sent into Gaza to contain the uprising. The next day, Israeli paratroopers armed with U.S. weapons shot and killed Palestinian protesters. Instead of quelling the protests, the rebellion spread to the Israeli-occupied West Bank. 

As Israel tried to crush the emerging Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza, the U.S. Congress quickly and overwhelmingly approved a $3-billion-dollar package of military and economic aid for Israel. The aid measures, which included several major items sought by the Israel lobby, were approved as part of a huge spending bill.

On December 22, 1987, Congress passed provisions that expanded U.S. aid to Israel by agreeing to refinance Israel’s $9 billion debt to reduce its interest rates. The measure saved Israel as much as $2 billion in interest payments. In addition, Israel was granted its traditional $3 billion in economic and military aid, allowed to use $150 million of its military aid on an advanced aircraft research and development program in the United States, and to use another $400 million of its military aid for defense procurement in Israel. Israel also received an additional $5 million for U.S.-Israel cooperative aid and $25 million for refugee resettlement. 

Direct military and economic foreign aid to Israel is over $3-billion-a-year. In addition the U.S. provides Israel with about another $3 billion in indirect military and economic aid. Israel receives over 30 percent of the U.S. foreign aid budget. In recent years the amount of economic assistance has decreased and military aid increased. Each year the total level of aid rises. In 2010 U.S. direct aid rose by $225 million. And Israel was permitted to spend up to 25 percent of the over $3-billion for military purchases from Israeli manufacturers with the remaining 75 percent to be spent on military hardware made in the U.S.—an innovative way the U.S. helps its own arms trade industry.

Military grants

It is this huge supply of U.S. armaments, technology and finance which gives Israel the capacity to maintain the occupation of the Palestinian territories, continue to build and expand Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, and repress the Palestinian peoples’ struggle. This assistance also gives Israel the ability to launch military attacks against the Palestinian Resistance in the Palestinian territories, and in Lebanon.

Almost half the official aid to Israel consists of special grants or instantaneously forgiven loans. Military transactions constitute two-thirds of this assistance. The economic lifeline between the U.S. and Israel is indispensable in providing at no cost the weapons Israel could not buy elsewhere. When it comes to debt servicing these military “sales,” Israel can service this debt only in the formal sense that these installments are paid when due. But in reality these installments are funded through new U.S. aid supplied each year.

Israel also receives funds through the U.S. Defense Budget. For instance, Israel was provided with over $1-billion in grants since 1986 for joint military projects like the Arrow Missile project. The U.S. also gave funds for other projects including $53 million for the Boost Phase Intercept program and $139 million for the Tactical High Energy Laser program. 

In addition special consideration is given to Israel in other areas. Discount and dispensation-aid is another tier of economic assistance. Some weapons transferred to Israel are deliberately discounted. In addition there is extensive support for Israeli universities and research institutions funded by the U.S. Department of Education and other U.S. agencies, which total almost $100-million-per-year. The U.S. also helps out with export concessions, as Israel is designated as a “developing country” by the U.S., despite its high per-capita income, which accords Israel reduced or non-existent tariffs on exports to the USA. Consequently, 96 percent of Israel’s $1-billion exports to the USA enter free of tariffs.

As well there is a more informal type of aid. A network of Zionist fund raising groups in the U.S. send substantial financial donations to Israel. With the exception of Israel Development Bonds, most of these funds are considered charitable donations and are fully tax deductible in the U.S. The International Monetary Fund reports such unofficial aid at about $1-billion-per-year. 

There are several other forms of U.S. aid to Israel that are difficult to track. In 1976, the U.S. Congress created a special financing method, called the Arms Export Control Act, to conceal some of this aid so as to hinder any criticism of the exact amount of U.S. assistance to Israel. 

The Obama government increased funding. In September 2016, the U.S. signed a significant agreement with Israel. The deal allowed Israel extra funding to upgrade most of its fighter aircraft, buy more fighters, improve its ground forces’ mobility and strengthen its missile defense systems. The accord constituted the most U.S. military aid ever given to any country and the largest such aid package in U.S. history. 

The U.S. agreed to transfer $38 billion in military aid to Israel over the next decade until 2028. During 2016, Israel received $3.1-billion in foreign military financing, which will be followed by $3.3-billion in the subsequent years, plus $500 million dollars designated for missile defense. The Obama administration signed off on the aid package with Israel’s acting National Security Adviser Yaakov Nagel, who negotiated the arrangement on Israel’s behalf.

In May 2017, U.S. President Trump added to the funding granted to Israel by Obama. The U.S. government promised to maintain Israel’s qualitative advantage in the Middle East and Israeli Premier Netanyahu revealed, just before Donald Trump’s visit to the Jewish state, that “the U.S. added another $75-million to the aid package for Israel’s missile defense program.” So while the Trump administration carried out budget and foreign aid cuts, Israel, as usual, was exempt from these. 

The relationship between the USA and Israel serves the capitalist interests of both countries. The USA needs a western military outpost in the strategic region. Israel serves the U.S. interests by providing a reliable and useful ally to help the U.S. maintain control of the region and to guard the oil resources and supply lines of the Middle East. The U.S. provides the military and economic backing Israel needs to remain a dominant regional military and economic force, to maintain its rule over the territory it has occupied and to intervene in the surrounding region when necessary to defend its interests and that of its powerful partner. 

In summary, Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid in U.S. history. And U.S. aid approximates almost one-half of Israel’s national income. The huge extent of the military and economic assistance given to Israel makes the state very dependent on U.S. support. The amount of aid to Israel was relatively small in 1949, but in the late 1960s this assistance increased considerably, climbing to $2.6 billion in 1974 and growing each year since. From 1949 to 2007, Israel received more than $156-billion in U.S. aid. This support has made Israel one of the top five arms exporters in the world and the Israeli army the fourth most powerful in the world. 

This massive military and economic assistance provided by the USA funds the ongoing illegal occupation of Palestine, the increasing expansion of Israeli settlements and the gross human rights violations against the Palestinian people. If there was ever a case of foreign aid sustaining occupation and oppression and funding invasions and mass killings, then this is it. Israel’s colonial, illegal settlement projects in the occupied territories could not be built without this essential U.S. assistance. So, despite the U.S. asserting that it wants to mediate to help resolve the Palestine conflict, its enormous sponsorship of Israel clearly exposes its deceit and utter hypocrisy on this issue. Consequently, it is in fact the USA that is the real obstacle to ending the occupation and achieving peace and a just solution to the Palestinian tragedy.

1 In the six years of the Palestinian uprising, known as the First Intifada between 1987 and 1993 over 1,300 Palestinians were killed, 120,000 wounded and 600,000 jailed.