Susan Rice Reaffirms U.S. Military Aid to Israel at AIPAC

Last week, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) held its annual policy conference in Washington D.C. This year’s focus was the ongoing P5+1 (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany) negotiations with Iran. However, it was also forced to address the increasingly public disagreements between the United States and Israel. Despite the tension between the two countries, though, as National Security Advisor Susan Rice’s speech made clear to the conference, U.S. military aid to Israel is not in question.

The most recent flare-up between the two countries came shortly after President Obama’s State of the Union Address. U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner (R-OH) worked behind the scenes with Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, to invite Prime Minister Netanyahu to speak in front of a joint session of Congress and did not notify the administration for before accepting. This break in protocol for both Congress and the Prime Minister upset the Obama administration who refused to meet with Netanyahu or send any high ranking officials to Congress for his speech.

Just days before the AIPAC conference, National Security Advisor Susan Rice took the most public attack by the administration on Netanyahu’s decision. In an interview with Charlie Rose, Rice explained that the Prime Minister’s decision "injected a degree of partisanship, which is not only unfortunate. I think it's destructive of the fabric of the relationship." A few days later the administration announced that Rice would be speaking at AIPAC, leading some, including William Kristol and Jennifer Rubin, to call for AIPAC delegates to boycott her speech.

Despite the call’s to boycott, a large audience turned out to hear Rice’s speech. Before delving into the administration’s defense of its negotiations with Iran, the national security advisor highlighted the United States’ strong security assistance relationship with Israel. She described the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security as then-Senator Obama did in his 2007 speech to AIPAC—“sacrosanct.”

Rice noted that security assistance to Israel has increased under the Obama Administration, surpassing $20 billion in military aid through the Foreign Military Financing program, including the largest annual military aid package ever from the United States last year. On average, Israel’s annual aid package is 50 percent of the total security assistance provided to all of the countries of the Middle East and North Africa region.

Much of this money has gone to co-developing the David Sling missile system, Arrow anti-missile system, F-35 joint-strike fighter and the Iron Dome missile system as part of the United States’ commitment, as reassured by Rice, to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge over its neighbors. Rice also highlighted the additional $225 million provided to Israel in support for the Iron Dome system during last summer’s war against Hamas, passionately explaining, “At that critical moment, we replenished Israel’s arsenal of Iron Dome interceptor missiles. That’s what it means to be an ally.”

Rice’s speech might best be remembered though, for the two standing ovations she received during her explanation of the administration’s position in regards to negotiations with Iran. The applause was for policies she and the administration oppose. But what her speech clearly showed was that although Israel and the United States might disagree over Iran negotiations, even a frustrated administration remains fully committed to the U.S. military assistance relationship with Israel.

Seth Binder is the Program Associate for the Security Assistance Monitor and covers the Middle East and North Africa.