The Best Defense

Jewish Light Editorial

Mostly below the inescapable buzz of the political campaigns and conventions, the United States and Israel appear to be on the verge of a major defense agreement. Don’t be surprised to see the deal finalized prior to the November elections.

With the 10-year cooperative deal between the countries set to expire in 2018, negotiators have been discussing what has been termed the largest U.S. military aid commitment in history. And while the details of the quiet talks are open to interpretation and debate, the pact, if approved, would generate another decade of strong military support of Israel by the U.S., maybe even stronger than ever before.

The administration of President George W. Bush hammered out a deal with Israel that has seen the annual military support to Israel grow to $3.1 billion per year. That arrangement also enabled opportunities for Israel that have not historically been made available to other nations receiving such aid from America.

Most know about the public acrimony between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama. Yet even through all the permutations of public angst, both the American leader and Congress have continued to articulate the extreme importance of keeping Israel safe and secure, and to do so in part through ensuring its military strength into the future.

Some speculate that the work on a new, decade-long deal derives from pressure being exerted from Israel and its surrogates as a result of the United States pushing the Iranian nuclear accord. The argument goes like this: With the potential for Iran to develop a nuclear arms program after 10 or 15 years under the agreement — a contention that has been much debated on all sides — the United States “owes” increased funding to Israel for its defense.


Others have said that implicit pressure may instead be bearing down on Israel to make a deal. As native St. Louisan and Middle East expert David Makovsky was quoted in the Washington Post, “Israelis are conscious that support for Israel is slipping in some liberal quarters and that a 10-year deal with a liberal president would make it ‘bulletproof.’ ” 

Recent reports suggest that the deal under consideration could considerably up the annual amount of funding from the United States. Some have indicated that Netanyahu has pushed for as much as $5 billion per year, which would be an increase of significant import. Consider that Israel’s 2015 defense funding was itself estimated at $18 billion.

We don’t expect the annual amount to climb that high, which would be a 65-percent increase, at least not initially — perhaps there will be an escalator during the term, as there was in the previous deal. Several other items appear to be sticking points as well; the United States would like to eliminate the existing provision allowing 28 percent to fund Israeli companies’ defense R&D, and also to prevent Congress from overspending the new agreement’s stated funding amounts.

While those may be points of further discussion, analysis of the deal suggests they are hardly deal breakers. If the R&D prohibition, intended to offer more dollars from the deal for American contractors, stays in, that would be, under the current deal, about $800 million per year that couldn’t go from the U.S. funds to Israeli military firms.

But let’s say, for sake of discussion, the United States came up with $4 billion per year, as opposed to the current $3.1 billion. That itself would provide another $900 million each year over the current deal, and if it started this coming year, rather than waiting until 2018, there could be a meaningful increase to Israel. This could free up funds in Israel’s own defense budget to spend on the nation’s own military and defense-related industry. 

As for the purported provision that would restrict Congress’ raising of the amounts, well, that shouldn’t really cause much consternation, for two reasons — first, because of the presumably increased amounts in the new agreement, and second, because Congressional leaders have many, many times in the past voted to undo or redo their own budgetary limitations.

In our opinion, what we as a nation should be seeking is a funding agreement that allows Israel to remain strong in the region, ensure as best as possible its safety and security on as many fronts as possible, and to recognize a long-term commitment to the Jewish State. If those objectives can be secured in a new, decade-long arrangement, we’ll be pleased indeed.