Jewish Light Editorial

Senator Lindsey Graham may or may not change his mind in the coming days, but it won’t much matter. 

The Republican legislator from South Carolina has objected to the deal recently reached by the administrations of U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to add another decade and a lot more money to American support of Israeli defense. 

The Memorandum of Under-standing (MOU) was expected to be signed this week by top aides to the leaders (which is, contrary to some perceptions, not due to the personal challenges in the leaders’ relationship; past agreements have been signed in similar fashion). And it is a major achievement, though not without some concessions.

The MOU, which picks up in 2018 when the current agreement ends, increases Israeli military aid more than 20 percent, from $3.1 billion to $3.8 billion annually. A large portion of the increase is to ensure Israeli missile defense, which has been subject to a separate appropriation from the main aid package. 

Obama’s public remarks indicated he wanted to solidify and enhance Israeli defense support for the years beyond his presidency. He and his team did, however, negotiate some limitations that they believed to be in American interests. A significant one was an agreement by Netanyahu for Israel not to pursue additional aid during the term of the agreement. 

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Another of those limitations was that there would be a phasing out of the portion of the aid (currently about 26 percent) that can be spent on purchases from Israeli’s own military suppliers, rather than American ones. While this allowance benefitted Israeli business, it was different in kind than with other military aid packages the U.S. offers. And military fuel, now up to 13 percent of the aid package, would be removed as well.

On balance, the package looks very attractive to Israel. While Netanyahu wanted $4.5 billion, it appears that the negotiated solution is very favorable to, and ensures a high level of assistance for, the Jewish State. Moreover, there are likely to be exceptions in the deal to allow for additional expenditures in the event of war or other crisis.

Graham, however, has seen the glass as half (or more) empty, preferring to chastise the administration for trying to limit how much Congress could choose to spend in the future for Israeli aid. And he wanted a bigger and less restrictive package.

The problem with Graham’s position, however, is his wanting to publicly and politically have his cake and eat it, too. He knows full well that one of the main reasons that this aid package was being pushed by the Israeli side is Netanyahu’s concerns about uncertainty of support for Israel from future presidents. Yet Graham can take political swipes at the administration by chastising it for trying to tie the countries’ hands going forward, and as an end-around to Congress’ authority to approve budgets and appropriations.

This is a rather disingenuous position, we believe, for Graham is aware that any future Congress can choose to do what it sees fit. If legislative leaders in the future want to appropriate more to Israel, even without a formal request from abroad, they can choose to do so. The vocal opposition helps Graham with his constituencies, but does little to substantively advance the U.S.-Israel relationship. 

We are in full favor of the enhanced aid package, designed to keep Israel with the “qualitative military edge” in the region, as Washington has previously promised. We also would support enhanced spending in circumstances requiring it, such as an attack or other threats. But we see Graham’s posture as relatively useless grandstanding, especially as Israel itself understands the strong benefits that this package provides.