Former heads of Israel’s National Security Council spoke out against recent calls for an end to US military aid to Israel. The calls, in this case, were not coming from the usual anti-Israel crowd.
“These are totally irresponsible statements by people who see a narrow view and don’t understand the needs of Israel to defend itself, and therefore are giving bad advice,” former National Security Council Yaakov Amidror said.
Jacob Nagel, the ex-chief of the National Security Council who negotiated the 2016 memorandum of understanding between Israel and the US about military aid, said that anyone making the argument against the funds “is harming Israel’s security.
“They aren’t hostile, they just don’t understand that they’re doing damage,” Nagel said.
The former National Security Council heads made the remarks after the publication of two buzzed-about articles calling for a stop to US military aid to Israel.
The articles calling to cut off the assistance do not come from the usual voices who claim Israel is violating human rights or committing war crimes. Additionally, the advocates of ceasing US aid to Israel are also not attempting to leverage the aid to force Israel to change its policies.
The first article, in Tablet Magazine by Jacob Siegel and Liel Leibovitz, puts forward the argument that "America's manipulation of the Jewish state is endangering Israel and American Jews."
The writers argue that by accepting US funding, Jerusalem gave Washington veto power over its military strategy, even though Israel's security interests are not always aligned with America's. In addition, the fact that all of the aid must be spent in the US weakens Israel's defense industry, they wrote.
They call for a "more forthrightly transactional relationship," which they say "would allow Israel to benefit economically, diplomatically, and strategically."
Liebovitz and Siegel also make the case that US military aid is spiritually impoverishing American Jewry, because its major organizations are more invested in lobbying for the funds than in Jewish observance and history.
Also this week, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof argued that US military aid to Israel does not make sense because Israel is a wealthy country.
"This is not about whacking Israel," Kristof wrote. "I don't think any change should happen abruptly or in a way that jeopardizes Israeli security. The reason to rethink American aid is not to seek leverage over Israel...[but] that American aid to another rich country squanders scarce resources and creates an unhealthy relationship damaging to both sides."
Kristof also said that aid to Israel is "a backdoor subsidy to American military contractors."
Some in Israel have made these arguments, as well. Kristof cites former justice minister Yossi Beilin who wrote in 2020 that American aid "has become more of a habit and a form of dependency than a real need."
Former Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren wrote in 2021 that there are "more secure and mutually advantageous alternatives" and stopping military aid would put the US-Israel "relationship on a more equitable and durable foundation."
Former Likud lawmaker Moshe Feiglin gave a speech in the Knesset a decade ago questioning the morality of a strong country like Israel accepting aid, and saying that the American funding hurts Israel's economy.
However, the mainstream Israeli view is otherwise, which Amidror and Nagel say is for good reason.
Amidror said that the argument made in Tablet is “very wrong.”
“A strong Israel can make its own decisions, and when Israel is not strong it cannot make decisions,” he said.
Nagel said that the idea that the US uses aid as leverage to pressure Israel is “total nonsense.”
In negotiations ahead of the last MOU between Israel and the US, Nagel recounted, “I said that ‘if you’re conditioning this aid, I don’t want it.’ The only condition is that we give them a list of what we’re buying so they can authorize it once a year. They have control over what we buy.”
“We seek America’s advice on almost everything because they are important to us, not just because we get aid from them,” he said. “They support us in a million other ways, in the UN, in Congress, in the world. They’re our main ally.”
“The idea that giving up on aid will give us more freedom to act and then the Americans will stop telling us what to do with the Palestinians is irrelevant,” he said.
According to Amidror, there was only one time in which the US used its military aid as leverage against Israel, and that was only after the fact. When Israel bombed the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq, the Reagan Administration launched a reassessment of its policies, pausing the delivery of F-16 jets. Eventually, though, they sent the jets to Israel.
US aid makes up about 20% of Israel’s defense budget. Nagel said that those who think that $3.8bn is easy for Israel to recoup on its own are mistaken in part because of the political realities in Israel: “The money will never come from the Finance Ministry. It’s easy to say, but we just won’t have the money.”
As for the argument that the money to Israel could go to poor countries, Amidror dismissed it as “dumb.”
“This isn’t money that Israel receives. We don’t get one dollar. It all goes to the American defense industry…Giving the money to Africa means taking it away from Boeing and Northrop Grumman,” Amidror pointed out.
As such, if Israel does not get aid, “$3.6 billion does not go to the American defense industry. Without it, Israel would buy some things from America and other things elsewhere.”
How the US benefits from aid to Israel
The assistance also has advantages for the US in that the Israeli military battle-tests new equipment. For example, Israel’s was the first air force to use the F-35 operationally, and improvements to the plane were made thanks to Israel’s experience.
Amidror cited the fact that Raytheon produces Iron Dome interceptors in the US as proof that aid to Israel benefits Americans: “It was worthwhile for them to open a factory for [the Iron Dome] in the US. That created jobs.”
Nagel said that this benefit to the US was the one downside for Israel of the last MOU, which phased out any American funding that could be spent in Israel, but it was not as great as detractors made it seem.
“There were small companies…who had to change the way they work. The big companies had other ways to deal with it and could build sub-companies in the US where aid can be used,” he said.
For the US, aid to Israel gets the best return on investment, Nagel argued, quipping that “when we finished the negotiations, I said ‘you should thank us for being willing to take the money.’”
“It allows us to never have to ask the Americans for boots on the ground and broadcasts the close relationship between Israel and the US,” he said.