Israel is concerned that the broad US budget cuts that went into effect Friday
evening will affect the economy, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said at
Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting.
“The economic difficulties in the United
States worry us.
I hope that we will not be hurt by them,” he
The across-the-board budget cuts, known as sequestration, are
expected to have negative repercussions for the US economy as a whole, and could
potentially cut military aid to Israel and defense cooperation on programs such
as the Arrow and David’s Sling missile defense systems. The threat of such
wide-ranging cuts was originally intended to force a fiscal agreement between
Democrats and Republicans, but failed to produce results.
international environment is very tough and it is required of us to act
responsibly and boldly and to work hard to maintain all of Israel’s economy and
Israel’s citizens,” Steinitz said, adding a plug for parties to drop resistance
to joining the government in ongoing coalition talks to ensure a “strong, stable
The exact implications of the cuts affecting Israel remain
unknown, because the specifics of how each agency will cut its budget have yet
to be spelled out. Globes estimated that the total could be as high as $729
million for the year, though sources on Capitol Hill estimated that military aid
cuts would be about $85m.
smaller than in the Globes worst-case
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which
opened its annual policy conference on Sunday, will take to Capitol Hill Tuesday
for a morning of lobbying, including a push to provide Israel with its full $3.1
billion in military aid for 2013 and 2014, as well as $211m. in additional
funding for the Iron Dome missile-defense system. AIPAC will also promote
legislation designating Israel a “major strategic ally,” a new alliance status
that may help it keep its aid.
The lobbying agenda did not reference
funding for joint missile defense programs, which the Pentagon will consider
when divvying up its budget cuts. The other two lobbying agenda items will be
devoted to legislation on Iran, one in the House, and one in the
Some critics worried that attempts to exempt Israel from painful
budget cuts while the rest of the US was forced to absorb them would cause a
“Traditionally AIPAC has been very cautious about not
seeming to take actions that suggested putting Israel’s interests over
America’s,” AIPAC critic M.J. Rosenberg wrote in the Huffington Post
“Demanding that Israel be exempt from cuts that virtually every
American will feel seems so counterproductive as to almost be suicidal for the
But Natan B. Sachs, a fellow at the Saban Center
for Middle East Policy at Brookings, says the chances for political backlash are
“It’s certainly a danger.
There’s always a question of
overreach, and the latest scuffle on [Defense Secretary Chuck] Hagel, which
AIPAC didn’t participate in directly but right-wing Jewish groups did, shows
that,” says Sachs.
Hagel was confirmed after a drawn-out political battle
which included, among other things, pointed questions over his support for
However, the fact that Israel is a popular issue mitigates the
chances of a backlash. “It’s very easy for members of congress to support
Israel, not just because AIPAC is a powerful lobby, which it is, but because
it’s a popular issue,” says Sachs. “The current administration and the Hill have
been very forthcoming for Israel on security issues.”
may be most acute among the rank and file of the Democratic Party, which is
still riled from perceived Israeli support for Republicans in the last election,
Ambassador to the US Michael Oren tried to strike a balanced
chord over the weekend, telling Globes, “Israel understands the difficult budget
challenges the Americans are dealing with. We are prepared to bear our share of
the burden, while trying to protect critical projects for Israel’s security and
integrity, including Iron Dome.”
Asked if there was concern over negative
political reactions, an AIPAC official doubled down, saying, “During a period of
mounting threats to American interests in the region and to our critical ally,
Israel, this is no time to reduce critical assistance which would only result in
greater and graver costs.”
J Street, a left-leaning Israel advocacy
group, also refused to specifically address the politics of the issue. “We
oppose the sequester which will damage the US economy and potentially hurt
national security and vital programs and also cause hardship to many vulnerable
people,” a spokesman for the group said. “We are calling on lawmakers to reach a
deal that that averts these negative consequences including any negative effects
Yet, keeping Israeli aid off the chopping block may also not
be as difficult as expected.
“The sequester came into effect, but it may
not last forever,” Sachs notes. “If you look at the way agencies are adapting,
they’re taking short-term measures to weather the storm until Congress comes
through with a new package, which may include cuts, but won’t be as blunt an
instrument as the sequester.”
How long that will take remains to be seen.
Stay on top of the news - get the Jerusalem Post headlines direct to your inbox!