Why Obama’s military aid to Israel is breaking all records

Record military aid for Israel will be Barack Obama’s enduring legacy on the Israeli-Palestinian issue as his presidency draws to a close. (Mark Israel/Flickr)

The Obama administration is offering Israel “the largest single pledge of military assistance to any country in US history,” an American official has confirmed.

This is a remarkable fact when set against the persistent claims of an ongoing “rift” between the US president and his Israeli counterpart Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The assurance was given to Defense News, in a report on Saturday outlining details of the package.

While the US hasn’t publicly confirmed specifics – which are still being negotiated – an Israeli cabinet minister told Defense News that the Obama package would see US military aid jump to more than $40 billion over the 10-year period beginning in 2018, from the $30 billion in the program that began in 2008.

Israel is the largest recipient of US military aid, according to Defense News, taking about 55 percent of the total. Aid from the US accounts for a quarter of Israel’s military budget.

Israel will also retain sweeteners that are denied other countries: the self-declared Jewish state receives its billions as a lump-sum payment at the beginning of each fiscal year, while other countries get installments.

While other countries are required to spend their US aid on American weapons and services, Israel is free to spend about a billion dollars each year subsidizing its own arms makers and research, developing technologies that may eventually compete against US companies.

But an unnamed, recently retired senior Israeli official told Defense News that there is a catch: under the Obama weapons deal, Israel won’t be able to ask for annual “plus-ups” – extra gifts from the US Congress that have amounted to as much as an extra $1.9 billion per year on average – except in “extreme emergency cases.”

That is hardly a catch, however. There’s nothing that the Obama administration can agree to with Israel that can effectively bind any future Congress.

What can stop Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill from continuing their practice of giving Israel annual top-ups that exceed even the requests put in for Israel by the Pentagon?

“Realistic offer”

As the Palestine Liberation Organization ought to have learned from decades of the so-called “peace process,” Israel’s negotiating strategy is to pocket any concessions from the other side, then start negotiating anew for more as if it had received nothing.

There is every indication that this is Israel’s approach. Despite Obama’s unprecedented largesse, Israel is publicly complaining that the US president is not being generous enough.

Last week, Israeli cabinet minister Zeev Elkin, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, said that Israel was still waiting for a “realistic offer” from the Obama administration.

Elkin was only taking a lead from his boss.

“Iran’s going to get about $100 billion now,” Netanyahu claimed at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month, referring to the country’s own money that is being unfrozen due to the lifting of sanctions.

“The American assistance to Israel is about $3.1 billion and we’re talking about a bigger package. But remember that even over a 10-year period, it pales in comparison to the enormous funds Iran gets,” the Israeli leader added.

Netanyahu last week told his ministers that if Israel didn’t extract what it wanted from Obama, “perhaps we will not manage to come to an agreement with this administration and will need to come to an agreement with the next administration.”

The White House responded – no doubt sincerely – that Israel could wait if it preferred, but that it “will certainly not find a president more committed to Israel’s security than is President Obama.”

Israel and its lobby

Israel is conducting itself as if it is an equal to the US, and as if it is engaged in a “negotiation” in which two sides have something substantial to offer and substantial to receive from each other.

That’s what Israel and its lobby want people to believe. The lobby boasts of the benefits Israel supposedly brings to its US bankroller – particularly in technology.

But these benefits are marginal compared with the vast military, industrial and scientific complex of the US, whose $600-billion-a-year global military machine would barely notice if Israel disappeared.

A glance at the Israeli arsenal makes clear that it is Israel that is completely dependent on US technology, not the other way around.

The fact is that Israel is a very small and barely significant US client state. Its importance is inflated by several factors, including its outsize domestic lobby and the ideological commitments of US leaders like Obama who openly embrace the “shared values” between America’s settler-colonial history and Zionism.

But Israel lobby power is not and has never been absolute. Rather, as Joseph Massad has argued, its influence is proportional to how closely aligned Israel is with US imperial and hegemonic interests.

When these clash – as in the case of the ongoing US rapprochement with Iran – the US establishment, even Obama, has no problem defying the lobby.

But where US leaders have no substantial disagreements with Israel’s actions – such as Israel’s killing of Palestinians and stealing of their land – there is no benefit, but there is a high cost to confronting the lobby.

Indeed, Palestinian rights and lives have been the currency Obama has used to “compensate” Israel over the Iran deal.

The new, bigger-than-ever Obama arms package will not be used by Israel to attack Iran, and therefore does not interfere with any US hegemonic interest.

The weapons Obama is giving Israel will be used to maintain and fuel Israel’s occupation, apartheid and settler-colonialism in Palestine, not to mention its regular massacres in Gaza.

That is why Obama is so determined to conclude this record-breaking weapons giveaway before his term ends.

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Discussion of US aid to Israel typically attributes it to two factors: the power of the Israel lobby, and Israel as a US strategic asset. Too often the discussion proceeds as if these two factors were mutually exclusive: either/or.
Thanks, Ali (and Joseph Massad) for straightening this out. When Israel 's actions are seen as threatening US hegemony, Israel loses out (e.g., Israel's failed efforts to start a war with Iran). But when Israel's actions are seen as reinforcing US hegemony, Israel gets all the aid it wants.
It's depressing but not surprising.

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It's a big election year and even a lame duck can use POTUS power to assure the lobby doesn't wreck Dem candidates. You're drawing an irrational conclusion that Obama mindlessly partakes in some perennial conspiratorial agenda when there is nothing about the man that would indicate that.
Does he have to obey forces that make it appear so? Sure he does. But he spent a lot of political capital trying to break the status quo. Now he has to spend what he's got left making sure a GOP President - that might very well look the other way while Israel carries through with outright genocide - doesn't get elected. You tell me how he can do better with this Congress and this ignorant voting public!

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I find it hard to understand why the US Government gives the illegally created terrorist state of Israel $3 billion annually, which she uses to kill more Palestinians.

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Every candidate for President seems to understand it perfectly well, except for the two both political parties would like to see go away. Go figure.

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