U.S. Aid to Israel Could Increase By Over $1 Billion

Middle East and North Africa

According to a recent New York Times article, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected talks with President Obama for an increased security assistance package to Israel. To avoid the appearance of acquiescing to the Iran nuclear deal, Netanyahu plans on holding out until the deal faces an approval vote in the U.S. Congress. However, reports from May show that the United States and Israel have already been engaged in talks over increasing military assistance.

The current deal is set to expire in 2017, and Israel is seeking to increase their annual military aid package to approximately $4.2-$4.5 billion per year, amounting to $45 billion through 2028.

Under the current agreement signed in 2007, the U.S. assistance package to Israel is $3.1 billion annually in Foreign Military Financing (FMF). As a comparison, that would be 18 percent of Israel’s $17 billion (65 billion shekel) defense budget in 2015. The proposed rise in military aid, a policy agreed to in principle by President Obama in a 2013 visit, would mark a 35-45 percent increase in military assistance provided to Israel from its current level. And if the recommendations of the Locker Convention for an annual $15.5 billion defense budget over the next five years are accepted, U.S. assistance would account for an even greater percentage of Israeli defense spending at 27-29 percent (if U.S. military aid is included in the Israeli defense budget).

U.S. foreign policy guarantees Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge (QME) over any potential rivals. Consequently, Israel receives the most state of the art equipment. The United States has provided to Israel or helped develop with Israel a variety of high-tech military equipment, including the F-35 fighter jet, armored personnel carriers, and missile defense systems such as the Iron Dome, David’s Sling, and Arrow I, II, and III, equipment it will not sell to other states in the region.

In 2015, Israel will receive 39 percent of the $7.8 billion in security assistance allocated to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and 55 percent of the $5.6 billion in FMF to the region. In comparison, Israel’s neighbors are set to receive less than Israel combined: $1.3 billion (Egypt), $580 million (Jordan), $530 million (Syrian rebels) and $129 million (Lebanon) in 2015. In the region, only Iraq has ever received more security assistance than Israel. At the height of the war in 2007, security assistance to Iraq peaked at $5.6 billion before dropping to $351 million in 2014. The next year, aid increased to $1.9 million in response to the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the collapse of several divisions of the Iraqi military.

No matter what either side says, the increase in security assistance from $3.1 to $4.2-$4.5 billion will likely be seen as an attempt to placate Prime Minister Netanyahu’s disapproval of the Iran nuclear deal. While officials from both sides would likely insist that a new military would not be a payoff for the nuclear agreement, an increase in aid to Israel would soften the blow of the nuclear agreement for the Israeli government and U.S. domestic opposition.

Despite tensions between the allies, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey, following talks with Israeli officials earlier in June, hinted at an increase in funding for Israel in order to “maintain not only a qualitative military edge, but a quantitative military edge.” Dempsey elaborated that the United States must stay “attuned to the fact that while we encourage our Gulf partners to build capability to offset Iran and these substate actors like ISIL -- that they don’t grow so much in size that they become an overmatch in the region.” As the region continues to suffer from seemingly intractable conflicts, the United States continues to provide substantial sums in military and police aid to help stabilize the region and these negotiations seem to solidify that foremost among those recipients will be Israel for at least another decade.