By Md. Muddassir Quamar*
On September 14, 2016, the US and Israel signed a defence aid agreement worth USD 38 billion for ten year between 2019 and 2028. This is a USD 8 billion increase from the previous deal that that was signed in 2007 and ends in 2018; an increase of over 25 percent. It is a continuation of US military aid to Israel that has been the backbone of the bilateral relations since the establishment of Israel in 1948. In fact, Israel has been one of the biggest recipients of the US military aid since the World War II and the proportion further increased since the 1980s. As per the current agreement, Israel will receive an annual USD 3.8 billion in military supplies.
The US and Israel entered into negotiations for the agreement in November 2015 and the talks were marred in tensions due to Israel’s opposition to the Iranian nuclear deal. Further President Barack Obama has been critical of Israel due to continued settlement constructions in the West Bank, which he termed as a serious impediment towards peace. Reports suggest that the Israeli side was looking for a bigger package to the tune of USD 45 billion but it could not materialize. The package includes USD 5 billion for the Israeli defense program and it also restricts Israel’s ability to lobby the Congress for additional aid above the agreed upon sum. In fact, in the previous years, Israel had received USD 500 million annually above the approved sum of USD 3 billion. Hence, analysts point that the actual increase in the amount is limited to USD 300 million annually.
The deal has significant implications for both US-Israel bilateral relations, Israel’s standing in the region and for the peace process. It signifies that despite tensions and disagreement among the leadership on several issues the bilateral relations are steady and strong and continue to have a strong military component. The US will continue to ensure Israel’s security and will continue to fund Israel’s military and defense industry. What will change with this agreement is that gradually Israel will have to use the entire amount to buy military equipment from the US defense industry. Earlier it had the provision to use 26 percent of the funds for procuring military equipments from Israeli defense industry. Now that Israel has a robust defense industry, the US decided to stop indirect support for Israel’s defense industry. However, this will not seriously affect the industry that has now emerged as one of the major supplier of various military equipments to a number of countries including India.
Further, the military aid agreement ensures that Israel will remain the best military power in the Middle East and that the military equilibrium in the region will not be tinkered. Since facing the conflict with Arab countries soon after its establishment, the continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and living in a hostile neighborhood, Israeli military has been gradually supported and strengthened by the US to the extent that it has emerged as one of the most powerful militaries in the region. The bigger Arab neighbors such as Egypt and Iraq as well as hostile countries such as Syria and Iran have long seized to be a major military competitor to Israel but its paranoia for security has kept it immersed in enhancing military power and this is not going to change anytime soon.
The deal also has implications for Israel in terms of its dependence on the US for its security and maintaining the robustness of its weapons as well as military research and development. It also ensures that Israel continues to strengthen its military power and remain the leading military in the Middle East.
On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it continues to tilt the military balance of power in favor of Israel and prevents any other military or non-state actor to significantly challenge Israel’s military might. It also means that Israel will not feel the need to look for a non-military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Those who were looking for reduction in military aid so as to make Israel look for a peacefully negotiated solution to the conflict will be disappointed. The military aid does not make peace attractive than it what it has been. While the two sides do not have the political will and vision for serious negotiations to achieve peace, the continued military aid to Israel makes it even less attractive.
The deal has regional implication as well and underlines the fact that despite the nuclear deal with Iran that led to severe heartburns in Tel Aviv, the scope for a significant alteration in US Middle East policy is bleak. It will continue to depend on Israel for extending its policies in the region and talks that it is shifting its focus on Iran as it wishes to lessen its engagements in the Middle East do not have much substance. What the nuclear deal underscored was that in the changing geopolitical climate in the region, the US can no long afford to keep Iran isolated from its Middle East policy. So far as Israel is concerned, it will remain the most important military ally for the US for a foreseeable future.
It would be futile to argue that the military aid agreement between the US and Israel will lead to any significant change in the regional situation and the Middle East peace process. It rather encourages Israel to maintain the status quo and does not incentivise it into entering peace negotiations. Until any significant change in the regional dynamics takes place, one should not expect any substantial movement in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process due to the new military agreement.
*Dr. Md. Muddassir Quamar is a Researcher with the Middle East Institute, New Delhi. Comments and suggestions on this article can be sent on: [email protected]