United States Military Aid to Israel

You Can’t Say We Didn’t Know:
Some Perspectives on Israel, Palestine, and the Conflict

Episcopal Bishop’s Committee for Israel/Palestine
Diocese of Olympia
October 2016

By Tim Hill

Since the 1950’s, the United States has provided substantial military support to the State of Israel. Israel claims its survival is threatened by several of its surrounding neighbors. The pro-Israel lobby in America has pressured Congress to provide armaments. Both Republicans and Democrats have responded favorably. This paper provides an overview of America’s military aid to Israel.

After the founding of Israel in 1948, its leaders sought military aid from Europe and the United States to combat adjacent Arab countries. American weapons began arriving in the late 1950’s. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union shipped weapons to the Arabs, and in response the United States sent armaments to Israel. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy authorized a major sale of Hawk anti-aircraft missiles to Israel. In 1964, the United States sent 200 M48A battle tanks. More sophisticated weaponry was shipped as the years went by. American aid significantly increased after the 1967 War and again during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Israel purchased these weapons with loans from the United States. Later the United States cancelled this debt. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter convened talks that led to a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt at Camp David. Israel was subsequently guaranteed $3 billion a year in weapons. Egypt was granted $1.3 billion in development assistance. It is interesting to note that Israel’s clandestine nuclear program, which began in the 1950’s, was financed, not with US aid, but from wealthy diaspora Jews, including several from America.

The United States and Israel cooperate closely in a number of areas of military activity. The United States underwrites some of Israel’s research and development of weapons such as the Merkava main battle tank and the IAI Lavi ground-attack aircraft. Israel has been a participant in the development of the F-35 Lightning II fighter. It was offered access to the F-22 Raptor program, although it was abandoned because of high costs. The United States also contributes funds for a joint U.S.-Israel Missile Defense Program designed to thwart short-range ballistic missiles.

The two countries also cooperate jointly on a number of technology development programs, notably the Arrow missile system and the Tactical High Energy Laser, also known as “Nautilus.” They conduct joint military exercises, including biennial operations code-named “Juniper Cobra” to test integrated operations. In addition, the Israeli port of Haifa is the main port of call in the eastern Mediterranean for the United States Sixth Fleet. Israel also provides other logistical and maintenance support for U.S. forces in the region. Finally, the two countries share intelligence and maintain a joint anti-terrorist working group.

Over the last 20 years, the United States has shifted economic aid into military aid. In 2007, the Bush Administration and the Israeli government agreed to a 10-year, $30-billion military aid package for fiscal years 2009 through 2018. In 2015, President Obama promised to continue multi-year commitments of military aid to Israel, at a rate exceeding $4.5 billion per year. This means that 53% of total US foreign military financing worldwide will go to Israel whose defense expenditure amounts to 5.6% of Gross Domestic Product, the highest in the world.

There are many dissenting voices regarding United States military aid to Israel, including many European governments and peace organizations around the world. Israel has used its weaponry against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and in Gaza. Thousands of civilians, including women and children, have been killed or wounded by the Israeli Defense Forces. The Jewish Voice for Peace, along with other groups, has accused Israel of using American-made Apache helicopters, F-16 fighter jets, and cluster bombs on the civilian population in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead in December 2008 and January 2009. Israel denies this charge. As long as American aid to Israel goes to the purchase of weapons used to maintain Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and the siege of Gaza, both violations of the Geneva Accords and American law, we members of the Bishop’s Committee encourage our fellow Episcopalians and other citizens of our country to oppose all such aid.[1]

[1] References:
John Mearsheirmer and Stephan Walt, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, 2007.
Ian J. Bickerton and CIarla L. Klausner, A Concise History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 2002.
“US Military Aid and the Israel/Palestine Conflict,” http://www.ifamericansknew.org/stat/usaid.html.
“Israel-United States Military Relations,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israel-United_States_relations.