As 10-Year Deal Nears End, Israel Urges U.S. To Provide More Arms Aid

May 11, 2016
Originally published on May 13, 2016 7:09 pm
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Well over half the money that the U.S. spends each year on foreign military aid goes to Israel. Under a 10-year agreement that runs out next year, that country has been receiving more than $3 billion annually. Negotiations are underway for another decade-long deal, and Israel with strong backing from Congress is seeking even more U.S. aid for buying weapons. Others question whether that's really needed as NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tangled publicly with the White House last year over the Iran nuclear agreement. But after that deal went through, he showed up at the Oval Office to talk about another deal, one that would keep billions of dollars flowing every year, so that Israel could, as Netanyahu put it, defend itself by itself.

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BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Israel has shouldered a tremendous defense effort over the years, and we've done it with a generous assistance of the United States of America.

WELNA: Sitting alongside Netanyahu, President Obama said they would be discussing a renewal of U.S. military aid to Israel.

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BARACK OBAMA: It will be expiring in a couple of years, but we want to get a head start on that to make sure that both the United States and Israel can plan effectively for our defense needs going forward.

WELNA: That encounter took place six months ago. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are growing impatient. Late last month, 83 of the U.S. Senate's 100 members signed a letter to Obama...

CHRIS COONS: Simply urging the administration to move forward to the conclusion of negotiating with Israel a new 10-year memorandum of understanding.

WELNA: That's Delaware Democratic Sen. Chris Coons, one of the letter's organizers. Coons says no specific sum of money is being sought, just a bigger commitment.

COONS: The letter urges serious consideration of an increase in the annual military support that the United States provides to Israel, but does not direct a specific number outcome.

WELNA: Israel is reportedly seeking up to $5 billion a year in aid. The $3.1 billion the U.S. currently provides covers a fifth of Israel's defense budget. In return, Israel has to spend about three out of every four of those dollars on American-made weapons. Sen. Richard Blumenthal is a Democrat from Connecticut, home to some large defense contractors.

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: The increased military aid to Israel may well mean more investment in the military components, parts, products, weapons systems that are produced in Connecticut.

WELNA: By law, the U.S. has to help Israel maintain what's called a qualitative military edge. Paul Pillar is a former senior CIA officer for the Middle East. He says Israel already is far ahead of its potential adversaries.

PAUL PILLAR: Any combat between the Israelis and any really combination of foes would still be one in which the qualitative edge by Israel would be so substantial, it would be an easy Israeli victory.

WELNA: And Pillar, who's also a senior fellow at Georgetown University's Center for Security Studies, doubts more U.S. military aid to Israel is indispensable.

PILLAR: Israel is a wealthy country that could easily pick up the tab even if Uncle Sam was not.

WELNA: According to the World Bank, Israel's economic output per capita is now higher than Japan's. Todd Harrison directs defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He says funding for Israel comes from the same budget-capped pot of money that domestic spending comes from.

TODD HARRISON: So every additional dollar provided to Israeli for a military financing program is a dollar less that could be spent on domestic priorities in the U.S. budget.

WELNA: For Sen. Coons, the help for Israel is justified

COONS: It is different from our military assistance to all other countries, but I also think our partnership, our alliance with Israel is particularly strong, particularly important.

WELNA: To the point that there's wide agreement that the question now is not whether that aid will continue, but by how much it increases. David Welna, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.