Cutting aid – be careful what you wish for


What would happen if America cut aid to Israel?
– a speculation

Last week I discovered a corollary to the famous Godwin’s Law†. It’s called Quilty’s Law (after Clare Quilty who developed it).

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability that an antisemitic trope sharer will claim to be of Jewish descent approaches one.

In this spirit I want to introduce Guy’s Law to the public.

As an online discussion on any aspect of Israel grows longer, the probability that an Israel Hater will raise American aid approaches one.

Yet so far I haven’t seen any discussion of what might happen if America cut all aid to Israel. This post aims to rectify that.

Bernie Sanders

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It’s  been some time since Five Minutes for Israel discussed American aid but Dollars and Sense and Good for America from 2012 are still relevant and worth a reread.

Much as I hate to begin with a disclaimer, here is a disclaimer.

I believe that all government spending should undergo periodic review. Reviewing American aid to Israel doesn’t frighten me as I am certain the review will come to the same conclusion, as always, that American aid to Israel is an investment and payment for services rendered not a gift.

Thank you, Bernie

The inspiration for this post is Democratic contender for the presidency, Bernie Sanders. By the way, has he actually joined the Democrats?

When asked if he would “ever consider using” the US$3.8 billion military aid “as leverage to get the Israeli government to act differently,” the senator answered, “Absolutely”.

Leaving aside the ambiguity about whether he just meant that he would ‘absolutely’ think about it, “Thank you for inserting that unprecedented thought into my head”, or whether he meant that he would ‘absolutely’ cut aid to Israel, that question is now firmly in mainstream political discourse.

Israel boycotted usIt is an interesting what-if whether Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar travelling to Ramallah to call on America to stop aid would be more or less damaging than announcing it as reprisals for not allowing them to make such an announcement from Ramallah.

Will cutting aid force change on Israel?

Something worth repeating, particularly as some Israel haters are convinced that Israel will collapse economically and militarily if the USA cuts aid. $US 3.8 billion in aid is around 20% of the total military budget of $19.6 billion and around 4% of the total $93.11 billion. Losing those sums would be a hit but would not be fatal.

By comparison the requested American budget for 2019 is $3.422 trillion! The Defence budget is about $660 billion. Aid to Israel comes to 0.0000000005% of total defence spending!

Despite libel to the contrary, Israel doesn’t operate from nastiness but from a generally rational decision making process that an action is necessary. This is why the short answer to the question would cutting aid force Israel to commit suicide is NO. At least for the moment conceding a Palestinian state under the minimum conditions Abbas says he would accept comes under the heading of suicide.

Probably the opposite is the case. An Israel that feels itself unable to rely on America, particularly in the quick and massive resupply necessary in war might feel it must finish the fighting quickly and therefore much more brutally.

However, cutting aid would eliminate much of America’s moral influence. I doubt reducing America’s influence on Israel to that of France or the United Kingdom will push Israel towards the Palestinians.

Try persuasion not force.

For that matter America has been for most of the last seven decades the Palestinians largest financial benefactors. Has over $6 billion dollars contributed to UNRWA since 1950 given America any moral influence at all with the Palestinians?

What would cutting aid mean to America?

Alaska missile tests

Israel tests ballistic missile defence system in Alaska

Recently I was challenged as to what America gains from Israel. It’s too long a list for this already long post but you can read it here.

There are many moral and political reasons for American support of a friend and ally. Still, it must not be forgotten that American aid is mutually beneficial for Israel and America.

As over 80% of that aid must, by agreement, be spent in America, Israel is effectively tied into the Pentagon and America’s defence industries.

So what would change if America ‘punished’ Israel by stopping aid?

Not all that much. Unlike other recipients of American aid, such as India, Egypt and Afghanistan, all previously Russian clients, Israel really has no choice but to be America’s ally.

On the other hand, not being compelled to buy American gives Israel the freedom to shop around and enter weapons research deals with others. Because other countries  buy American, at least in part, because Israel wins with American weapons. So not only could Israel become be a competitor but its role as ‘celebrity endorser’ of the American product would be greatly reduced.

Would Israel cease being what late former NATO’s Supreme Commander and US Secretary of State General Alexander Haig, described as “the largest, most battle-tested and cost-effective US aircraft carrier …”††? Would it cease its role as a major intelligence source?

Once again, probably not. Mutual interest rules, again. Still imagine if Israel charged the real price for services it provides? Israel is responsible for over 600 modifications in the current generation of General Dynamics’ F-16 fighter aircraft. What would that be worth in money terms?

Going a little off in a tangent. Sometimes defenders of Obama’s hostile relationship with Israel point to his raising military aid from $3.2 billion p.a. to $3.8 billion as refutation. In my opinion that had little to do with love for Israel. His ‘lame duck’ F.U. at the United Nations proves that. It was far more likely a response to pressure from his own Pentagon and the American arms industry.

Federal Budget 101

Just because money is withdrawn from a project you disapprove doesn’t mean it will be transferred to one of which you do approve.

DOLLAR-SHEKEL

The ‘America gives money to Israel’ comment can surface anywhere but some responses appear more often than others.

If media post celebrates some new Israeli medical or technical advance, a likely comment is that if America didn’t ‘give’ Israel tax-payer money Flint, Michigan would have clean drinking water or America would have a free public health service.

Unfortunately, nothing is that simple. The money could go anywhere. America’s problem is not lack of money but lack of direction in spending it.

Conclusion

Cutting American aid to Israel would not force a change of direction but could lead to a loss of influence and the creation of a competitor costing American jobs. Far from softening Israeli response to threats it may harden them.

Be careful what you wish for.

Extra credit

About the Five-in-a Star

No, the ‘5’ in the 5MFI star hasn’t been devalued. One American dollar is worth 3.48 New Israel Shekels (N.I.S.) at time of writing. Benjamin Franklin was chosen because Member of Congress Ilhan Omar, often accused of antisemitism,  tweeted, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby‡.” suggesting that people who support Israel do so for money—meaning they were getting paid off.

† Godwin’s law (or Godwin’s rule of Hitler analogies): “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1”
‡  For non Americans: Omar was referring to Benjamin Franklin who appears on the American $100 bill.
* One trillion is 1,000,000,000,000 i.e. one million million or 1012. One billion is 1,000,000,000, i.e. one thousand million, or 109. This is now the general meaning in both British and American English.
†† “the largest, most battle-tested and cost-effective US aircraft carrier, which does not require a single US boot, cannot be sunk and is located at a most critical area. If Israel did not exist, the US would have to deploy a few more real aircraft carriers to the eastern flank of the Mediterranean, costing $20 billion annually, which has been spared by the Jewish State.”

Photo credit

  • SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA – JULY 26: Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks at a campaign rally on July 26, 2019 in Santa Monica, California. Mario Tama/Getty Images/AFP
  • Detail from news conference Washington D.C. 15 July 2019 AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite. Their sour looks are really appropriate even if they precede the refusal to admit them to Israel by a month.

About David Guy

B.A./B.C.A. (Communication and Media Arts) University of Wollongong, AUSTRALIA M.A. in Government (Diplomacy and Conflict Studies) Inter Disciplinary Center, Herzliya, ISRAEL Twitter @5MFI
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2 Responses to Cutting aid – be careful what you wish for

  1. Pingback: 08/23 Links Pt1: Israeli Teenage Girl Killed in Bombing at West Bank Spring; Hamas lauds ‘heroic’ perpetrators of bombing; Cutting aid – be careful what you wish for – 24/6 Magazine

  2. Yehudit Rouzaud says:

    Minor point which I assume you cut out for space is that WaterGen, an Israeli company is making a sigificant contribution to Flint’s drinking water probelms aws they did in Capetown (despite the current hostile poltical climate there).The US-Israeli relationship helps the US in a whol bunch of areas, not just military research, intelligence, a bunch of military support that is under the radar, and sales.Its actually a lot less beneficial for Israel’s development but its so beneficial to the US that there is no way they are actually going to let go, Democratic grandstanding aside.

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