The case for ending US military aid to the Mideast
There is now reliable evidence that US foreign aid to the Middle East is a costly experiment with dubious benefits.
Egyptian military helicopter Photo: reuters
With President Barack Obama preparing for a second term and in the midst of a
seeming continual swarm of uncertainty sweeping the Middle East, now more than
ever is the prudent time to reexamine the decades-old policies surrounding US
military aid to the Middle East.
Many abroad might be shocked to hear
that we write these words from here in Jerusalem where security remains the
preeminent concern on the mind of most Israelis and where only weeks ago we
completed an eight-day campaign defending our citizens against missile attacks.
The immediate assumption by most is that Israel is in desperate need of
continued military aid from our most powerful ally.
Yet the facts
contradict that assumption.
THE REALITY is that the continuation of this
policy does more to harm Israel’s security than protect it. And even beyond
Israeli borders, the policy is a major factor in perpetuating further regional
instability in an area of the world where there are no shortages of sparks that
recent events have proven can at any time burst into flames.
year 2011, the Obama administration requested from Congress $7.1 billion in
foreign aid for distribution in the Middle East.
Approximately $3b. was
designated as military financing for Israel, while over $4b. was earmarked as
economic and military financing for Arab countries – countries whose military
programs are in large part designed to prepare for potential hostilities with
Egypt, now under the authority of an Islamic government whose
assurances it will maintain the peace with Israel are viewed as highly suspect,
is the single largest beneficiary among Arab countries, having been allocated
$1.58b. last year alone.
The conventional wisdom in US foreign policy
circles is that these massive financial gifts are beneficial to both the United
States and the recipient countries. In fact, the policy is deemed so important
that advocates contend it must be maintained even in the face of a $16 trillion
national debt, a $1t. yearly budget deficit and a fast-approaching fiscal
But as is often the case with government funding programs, US
financial aid to the Middle East has good intentions with bad
Most fundamentally, US military aid to the Middle East harms
Israeli and regional interests by fueling an arms race that threatens to spiral
out of control.
Recent Israeli-produced estimates reveal that for every
dollar in US aid received by Egypt, Israel must spend between $1.60 and $2.10 to
maintain its qualitative military edge.
Since Israel is usually granted
$1.50 for every $1 in aid to Egypt, each American dollar given to Egypt costs
Israel between 10 and 64 cents out of its own pocket.
Of course, the net
cost to Israel of US aid increases further when one takes into account the
additional $1.5b. in economic and military aid transferred each year to Jordan,
Lebanon and the Palestinians. Since aid is well known to be fungible, it makes
little difference if US assistance is packaged as economic or military aid in
the congressional accounting books but only what recipients end up doing with
the money – something far more difficult to regulate.
The implications of
these sobering estimates are clear.
EGYPT, JORDAN, Lebanon and the
Palestinians would clearly find it difficult to maintain the same level of
military might without US aid.
Without such funding, therefore, Israel
would be able to significantly downsize its military capabilities and invest
less of its own money defending against military threats which are remarkably
financed by her closest ally.
An oft-heard counter-argument is that China
or Russia would step in to fill the void if the US ceased providing funds to
Arab countries in the region. However, China and Russia were always free to top
up US aid to Egypt so that it reached parity with the higher amount provided to
Israel. Yet, these countries never found it in their interest to do
An additional argument now heard is what about the Iron Dome, the
missile defense system which successfully protected millions during the recent
violence with Hamas.
Wasn’t this largely funded by US military aid? While
indeed significant funds came from the US for this project, it was far more of a
mutually beneficial business collaboration/investment between America and Israel
than a handout. For Israel it defended our homes and our families. And
for the United States it introduced a now proven defense system that will be
installed in other hostility-prone zones and promote greater global
WHILE MANY well-meaning American Jewish leaders find it
difficult to reconcile with the idea that the US should no longer shower Israel
(or its neighbors) with financial gifts, it is instructive to examine how
Israelis themselves view the US aid policy.
In August 2012, the Jerusalem
Institute for Market Studies conducted the first-ever Israeli national opinion
poll on US aid to the Middle East. A representative sample of the Israeli Jewish
population was asked, “With the emergence of the new government and leadership
in Egypt, do you think that weapons purchased with US military aid are more
likely or less likely to be used against Israel than in the past?” Nearly half
of the respondents (49 percent) think it is more likely.
There is now
reliable evidence that US foreign aid to the Middle East is a costly experiment
with dubious benefits. By fueling a regional arms race, the security of its
residents, both Israeli and non, is threatened and the prospects for further
regional economic development are hindered. There’s no dismissing the irony that
Israel’s greatest ally is actually harming Israel’s interests by funding our
military but the fact is that this “generosity” is very negatively impacting on
A sizable percentage of the foreign policy discourse in the
recent campaign was dedicated to which candidate more strongly supports the
Jewish state. President Barack Obama vociferously contended that the US-Israel
relationship was as tight as ever. The administration would therefore be wise to
seriously consider the prospect of finally ending US military aid to our region
– an action that would bravely set a new course for foreign policy but best
defend America’s allies and promote the stability which the Middle East so needs
at this time.
Corinne and Robert Sauer are the founders of the Jerusalem
Institute for Market Studies. www.jims-israel.org