Post Script: No harm in thinking

As election time in America draws nearer and the economy becomes more of a heated issue, Israel would do well to remove itself from center stage.

By HIRSH GOODMAN
October 27, 2011 22:35
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Israel US flag 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Those who argue that America should reconsider its military aid package to Israel have a point.

We all understand the tremendous economic pressures America is under; the horrendous cost of the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and its new commitments to countries such as Pakistan; the high unemployment and growing social needs, the implications of America’s ever-growing national debt and general mood of economic stress and uncertainty. Add to this the economic realities that have hit the euro zone and the compounded negative economic repercussions of this for the US, and the picture becomes bleaker.

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Israel, to read the facts and figures in the CIA Factbook, seems not to have it bad at all: unemployment a low 5.5 percent; per capita GDP at $29,800 last year, ranking Israel 46th in the world; exports of around $55 billion; verified natural gas reserves of 198.2 billion cubic meters; the market value of its publicly traded stock of over $220b.; real growth in GDP of 4.6% in 2010; an annual budget way in excess of $60b.; and defense expenditures down to 7.3% of GDP, still high by international standards, but not as outrageously so as in decades past.

Despite social discontent on a massive scale, as is now the rage the world over, Israelis, by every parameter laid down in the Factbook, are healthy, live long lives, are well educated and seemingly well defended. There is certainly something worth thinking about here.

America gives Israel roughly $3b. in aid annually, the same as to Egypt and Pakistan, for example. In Israel’s case the entire sum is military, of which about one quarter can be spent in Israel, the rest going directly back into American industry. In addition, Israel and America have many cooperative military programs which involve American funding, such as certain elements of the Arrow strategic anti-missile system and the tactical Iron Dome defense against shorter-range projectiles, but unlike the military grant program, here America derives benefits from the research and development involved.

Instead of fighting the calls for change, and maybe banging its head against a wall, perhaps it would be smarter if Israel could capitalize on things as they now stand, in a genuine and non-skeptical way, and preempt the growing demands in Congress and the American media to change the situation. Israel is not in the same category as Egypt or Pakistan, and if imaginative it can find a way of redefining the aid package into a win-win situation for both sides.

Israel has great knowledge in arid agriculture, desalination, medicine.



These are all of value in America’s war against poverty, hunger and premature death in the developing world. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said that America should extend its influence by the use of “soft power” – hospitals, education, agricultural development, all things Israel can be helpful in. America should insist on Israel being brought in as a primary partner in UN food and assistance programs, not as a handout to Israel, but because Israel can make an enormous difference in these things.

At the military level, the best cooperation is when there is mutual benefit. As the Americans well know, Israel has much to offer. We can buy their aircraft and they can buy services and research from us. More mutuality can be found. American defense industries are hard pressed to provide solutions in asymmetric warfare. Israel can help. Israeli drone technologies are super-advanced. Deeper intelligence cooperation is worth hundreds of millions. There are dozens of cooperative paths out there that could generate the same type of military economic interaction as the aid package, without the handout element, and thereby deflate the constant and sometimes humiliating demands for Israel to stop bleeding America dry and the other rhetoric one unfortunately hears in this regard.

If one drops the 25% of the current military aid package Israel is allowed to spend at home, the sum involved is less than half of what Israel decided to cut from its own military budget just a few weeks ago, slightly over $2b. That is not an insurmountable amount of money to re-juggle in an imaginative way.

It is in Israel’s interest to place the aid package in proportion and find ways of making it a give-and-take situation. I know the issue is one of these sacred cows, and the minute it is addressed it gets a knee-jerk reaction. But there is no harm in thinking. The situation here is unique. America is in economic trouble. It has massive commitments. Israel has what to offer.

Israel is now in its 60s and has benefitted tremendously from American generosity. But things have changed and Israel’s ally is threatened to the point where even symbolic gestures can help. A strong America is in Israel’s interest, and a strong Israel in the Middle East is a fundamental American interest. We share common concerns: Iran, terror, fundamentalism. Instead of seeming to require charity, the time has come to rationalize the issue and take it off the American public agenda. Doing that is clearly to Israel’s benefit. As election time in America draws nearer and the economy becomes more of a heated issue, Israel would do well to remove itself from center stage and to start thinking differently about how it can earn money for its industries by contributing to the world and by deepening its relationship with the American military to a point of mutuality where the $2b. net a year could be sensibly offset in ways of mutual benefit. This is not mission impossible, but both desirable and doable.

The writer is a senior research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. His most recent book, The Anatomy of Israel’s Survival, was published by PublicAffairs, New York, this fall.

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