By Ramzy Baroud
Billions of dollars US taxpayers’ money will continue to be funneled into Israel in the next fiscal year, and for many years after that. Republican and Democratic senators this month introduced a bill aimed at providing Israel with $3.3 billion in annual aid.
The bill, co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Chris Coons and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, was introduced on Jan. 9, one day after Iran struck US positions in Iraq. Enthusiasm to push the bill forward was meant as an assurance to Tel Aviv that the US is committed to its security and military superiority in the Middle East.
Despite a palpable sense of war fatigue among all Americans, regardless of their political leaning, the US continues to sink deeper into Middle East conflicts simply because it is unable — or perhaps unwilling — to challenge Israel’s benefactors in all facets of government. The maxim, “What’s good for Israel is good for America,” continues to reign supreme among Washington’s political elites, despite the fact that such irrational thinking has wreaked disasters on the region and is finally forcing a hasty and humiliating American retreat.
The latest aid package to Israel will officially put into law the memorandum of understanding that was reached between the right-wing Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Barack Obama administration in 2016. Obama had offered Israel the largest military aid package in US history.
Rubio justified the new bill by highlighting the “unprecedented threats” Israel supposedly faces. For his part, Coons said that “the events of the past few days,”’ referring to the US-Iran escalation, were “a stark reminder of the importance of US assistance to Israel’s security.” Coons’ statement was particularly odd given the fact that it was US, not Israeli, positions that were struck by Iranian missiles, which themselves were a response to the killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani.
The American funding of Israel’s military adventures continues unabated, despite the rapidly changing political reality in the Middle East and the shifting American role in the region. This further confirms that the blind US support of Israel is not motivated by a centralized American strategy that aims at serving US interests. Instead, the unconditional — and often self-defeating — American funding of the Israeli war machine is largely linked to domestic US politics and the unparalleled power wielded by the country’s pro-Israel lobby.
According to the Congressional Research Center, between 1946 and 2019 (including the requested funds for 2020), US aid to Israel has exceeded $142 billion. The vast majority of this funding — more than $101 billion — went directly to the Israeli military budget, while $34 billion and $7 billion were given as economic aid and missile defense funding, respectively.
It is becoming increasingly obvious that the US no longer possesses a well-defined and centralized strategy in the Middle East, with President Donald Trump changing American priorities from one speech to the next. However, one key phrase that seems to be consistent whatever regional political agenda is being championed by Washington is “Israel’s security.”
This term seems to be linked to every American action pertaining to the Middle East, just as it has, without exception, for decades. It has allowed wars to be launched or funded; human rights to be violated on a massive scale; the five-decade, and counting, military occupation of Palestine; the protracted siege on the impoverished Gaza Strip, and much more.
US aid to Israel continues despite the fact that all American aid to the Palestinians has been cut off, including the $300 million of annual US funding to the UN agency responsible for the welfare of Palestinian refugees, UNRWA. This organization, which has provided education, health care and shelter for millions of refugees throughout the years, is now, bizarrely, seen by both Israel and the US as “an obstacle to peace.”
Inexplicably, Israel receives roughly “one-third of the American foreign aid budget, even though (it) comprises just 0.001 percent of the world’s population and already has one of the world’s higher per capita incomes,” wrote Stephen Zunes in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
This massive budget includes much more than the headline $3 billion-plus of annual funding, with other amounts and perks rarely highlighted. Anywhere between $500 million and $800 million is given to Israel every year as part of a missile defense package, while about an additional $1 billion benefits Israel in the form of tax-deductible donations and $500 million is invested in Israeli bonds.
Then there are the loan guarantees, where the US government assumes responsibility for the billions of dollars that Israel can access as a borrower from international creditors. If Israel defaults on its loans, it is the legal responsibility of the US government to offset the interest on the borrowed money.
Since 1982, Israel has been receiving US aid as a lump sum as opposed to scheduled payments, as is the case with other countries. To satisfy its obligations to Tel Aviv, the US government borrows the money, and thus is left to pay interest on the loans. Meanwhile, “Israel even lends some of this money back through US Treasury bills and collects the additional interest,” Zunes wrote.
America’s relations with Israel are not governed by the kind of political wisdom that is predicated on mutual benefit. But they are not entirely irrational either, as the US ruling classes have aligned their interests, their perception of the Middle East and their country’s role in that region with that of Israel, thanks to years of media and official indoctrination.
Despite the fact the US is retreating from the region, lacking strategy and a future vision, lawmakers in Washington are congratulating themselves on offering yet another generous aid package to Israel. They feel proud because, in their confused thinking, a “secured” Israel is the only guarantor of US dominance in the Middle East — a theory that has been proved to be false time and time again.