Israel’s Exceptional Security Partnership with Washington
Security Assistance Monitor, June 2021
A new brief from SAM looks at the exceptional elements of the Israeli military partnership with Washington that pose unique challenges to oversight, accountability, and civilian protection.
Israel is the largest historical recipient of U.S. foreign assistance, totaling more than $146 billion since 1950, equivalent to $236 billion in 2018 dollars, the vast majority coming in the form of military aid. But in the wake of Israel’s recent offensive in Gaza that killed over 243 Palestinians, including 63 children, and wrought untold physical damage on the densely populated enclave, advocates and lawmakers are raising questions about the wisdom and risks of the current U.S. security partnership with Israel, including the ways in which the partnership contravenes traditional norms, regulations, and statutes governing U.S. arms sales and security sector assistance.
Israel enjoys a number of unique military aid and arms sales privileges, including shortened arms sales notification windows, 10-year multibillion-dollar aid agreements, the ability to spend U.S.-funded assistance on its domestic arms industry, and many others. Some elements, like the absence of U.S. tracking of Israeli units receiving assistance, have a direct bearing on the ability of the U.S. to adhere to human rights and accountability provisions, including Leahy law vetting.
For a full rundown of the privileges and exceptions Israel enjoys in its military partnership with Washington, read the full issue brief here.
The U.S. State Department intends to send $120 million in foreign military financing (FMF) to Lebanon for FY2021 to help bolster the Lebanese Armed Force’s defense systems, services, and training. Additionally, France is planning to “organize an international conference” to support the country’s depleted forces after an economic collapse.
New details on the specifics of U.S. policy after the withdrawal from Afghanistan have come to light. Comments from government officials promising to maintain “sufficient strategic warning and ability to prevent threats from coming and reaching Americans” and to provide “assistance support… to the Afghan national security forces”, as well as the CIA’s ongoing efforts to establish regional bases of operation, suggest that U.S. security involvement in the country will not likely cease.
France recently suspended $12.18 million worth of aid and military support for the Central African Republic due to the government’s failure to put an end to “massive disinformation campaigns” against the European nation. However, France will keep around 300 soldiers in the country, and international missions are set to continue as normal.
Amidst a U.S. withdrawal, questions regarding how Afghan special operations forces will continue to train have almost been answered. “We want to work with Afghanistan from a NATO perspective and we’re in the process of looking at out-of-country special forces training in certain locations,” said General Tod Wolters, commander of U.S. European Command and Supreme Allied Commander Europe. This training would ideally occur at a remote location, “probably somewhere in Europe.”
Public opinion polls in the United States show mixed results on the issue of U.S. assistance to Israel. While neither of the two central parties possesses a majority against military aid to Israel, Republican voters continue to show more support for the Middle Eastern nation than Democrats.
South Africa is sending a quick reaction force (QRF) to join the Force Intervention Brigade to better assist the Democratic Republic of Congo as it grapples with illegal armed groups. The QRF will not replace South African forces or other types of manpower currently present in the DRC, but will simply help bolster the country’s limited defense and security forces.
A recent meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky discussed the specifics of increased military assistance from the United States to the eastern European nation. The concerns center around increased Russian activity in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. Zelensky made clear that he believes that the Ukrainian position is “rather weak” in that region and that he hopes U.S. security assistance will help shore up those concerns.
Author Jennifer Spindel examines how arms sales under the Trump administration largely represented a break from the more nuanced and politically-aware approach to arms sales under previous administrations. She argues that addressing the consequences – from a deemphasis on human rights to sleights to allies and boosts to adversaries – will require slowing down the process and a deeper consideration of what signals are sent in selling arms.
Henrik Larson makes a plea against NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia in his article for War on the Rocks. He points out that the massive deployment of 100,000 Russian troops on Ukraine’s border was a direct response to rumors of a path to membership opening up for Ukraine. He cites several reasons against their integration including domestic instability, Russian military aggression, untenable military assistance costs, and a lack of practical capability provided by the membership as evidenced by the situation of the Baltic states.
Data Fact of the Week:
Israeli Share of U.S. Foreign Military Financing Assistance
The graphic above illustrates the recipient breakdown of U.S. Foreign Military Financing (FMF), a U.S. foreign aid program that provides funds for foreign partners to purchase U.S. weapons. Israel has represented over 50% of U.S. FMF since FY2001, amounting to more than $58B dollars.
The graphic comes from SAM’s latest issue brief on the exceptional arms relationship Israel maintains with the United States. To read the full brief click here.