$254 Billion in Unconditional US Aid to Israel Is Unique

On February 10, 2017 Professor Hillel Frisch of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies staked a claim. Contrary to many media reports – some aimed at discrediting Israel claims Frisch – Israel is in fact not the biggest beneficiary of U.S. military aid. According to Frisch, Israel trails far behind Japan, Germany, South Korea and Italy. Israel aid more resembles that given to Kuwait and Bahrain, according to Frisch.

Exhibit 1: Hillel Frisch ranking of US military aid recipients

US"Aid Recipient"

US Troops

Cost ($ Billion)

Japan

48,824

$27

Germany

37,704

$21

South Korea

27,553

$15

Italy

~

$6

Israel

~

$3.1

Frisch compares the Foreign Military Financing Grant Assistance and Missile defense program funding Israel receives from the United States to the costs of overseas military bases to accomplish this. The Frisch military aid formula includes the total cost of a US troop stationed abroad, which he estimates is around $500,000-$600,000 per annum – multiplied by the number of troops. Frisch derives his troop cost estimates from American University Professor David Vine’s book, Base Nation: How US Military Bases Harm America and the World, though he does not cite the title of the book, which is highly critical of US overseas bases. All that is required for other countries to rival US aid to Israel under the Frisch paradigm is the presence of 5,000 or more US troops.

Though some offset figures are available, Frisch does not appear to deduct any host country reimbursement in his analysis. Japan makes annual $2 billion in-kind payments to defray the cost of US troops on its soil. Germany provides tax waivers and rent-free use of facilities, builds roads and infrastructure. South Korea also builds infrastructure and provides rent-free facilities and under a signed agreement pays more than $800 million per year.

The US Department of Defense official overseas base cost figures – of course – do not sync with the Frisch analysis. The only costs that matter, in the Pentagon’s view, are the incremental costs of stationing US troops abroad. The fully loaded personnel costs, including pay, healthcare, pension benefits and other expenditures are incurred whether troops are stationed in the US or abroad, and therefore should be discounted, in the Pentagon view.

Using this incremental cost approach, the Pentagon estimates that total overseas bases cost only $10 billion per year, or in Japan’s case $7 billion a year, around $143,372 per troop. If Frisch’s claim that "US troops are a comparable form of military aid" are correct, using DoD’s incremental cost per troop approach, but extending it to Germany and South Korea which breaks the “$10 billion” figure – would still mean they do in fact receive more US"military aid" than Israel.

Exhibit 2: US Defense Department incremental Japan basing cost per troop estimate applied to Germany and South Korea

US Ally

US Troops

Cost

Japan

48,824

$7 billion

Germany

37,704

$5.4 billion

South Korea

27,553

$4 billion

In the Frisch analysis, and across an entire Israel lobby ecosystem of think tanks, pressure groups and public relations industries, US aid to Israel is an incredible, "no-brainer" investment. The lead congressional lobby promoting this idea, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, AIPAC, in the 1980’s even published a series of booklets about how vital Israel was to the United States. According to Frisch, Israel shares common values with the United States, and more importantly does not put American lives at risk with troops serving as sitting duck "trip-wires" vulnerable to foreign invasion forces. Frisch further claims that "Israel has been America’s sole ally between Cyprus and India with a strategic air force and (albeit small) rapid force deployment capabilities to counter major threats to vial US interests."

But this is where it all falls apart. Israel is not a US ally in the same sense as Japan, Germany and South Korea. That is observable in that it does not – beyond lip service – act like one. As more precisely defined, allies are parties to ratified security treaties. This is the key difference between the countries such as Germany and Japan that Frisch claims benefit from far more "US military aid" than Israel. Treaty allies have mutual obligations – though in great need of reassessment – with the United States. Their elected governments appear to value a formal treaty relationship with the United States, and have so far chosen to continue hosting US troops. Some, like Japan, appear to be poised to invest billions more of their own money in deepening ties, while others appear to be contemplating renegotiating their obligations. If one is going to redefine them, the proper categorization of these costs would be "Military Alliance Expenditures." Treaty-bound allies are in an entirely different category than Israel.

Exhibit 3: US Treaty Allies

Country

Security Treaty with the United States

Japan

1951 – Security Treaty between the US and Japan

1960 – Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the US and Japan

Germany

1949 North Atlantic Treaty Organization (West Germany joined in 1955)

South Korea

1953 Mutual Defense Treaty Between US and Republic of Korea

Italy

1949 North Atlantic Treaty Organization

Israel is not a US treaty ally, does not act like an ally, and often takes unilateral actions that cost the United States dearly. Few of Israel’s military capabilities are openly used to defend declared or observable US interests. Instead, US aid Israel is mostly used to attack and contain unarmed Palestinian civilian populations – generations displaced as a result of Israel’s creation. The US also entirely pays for missile defense systems – of questionable applicability to threats faced by America – that Israel has indicated little interest in funding on its own. Properly categorized, US aid to Israel would more accurately be called "Domestic Lobby-Driven Unconditional US Military Grants." Nothing Israel does ever impacts aid delivery.

Israel in 2015 deployed its intelligence services to thwart negotiations of a treaty – the JCPOA – actively pursued by the United States. Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, as testimony during the 9/11 investigation revealed, partially motivated the hijacker attacks on America (in addition to US troops stationed in Saudi Arabia). In 1984 an Israeli agent provided stolen classified US information to AIPAC in order to undermine US companies opposed to signing America’s worst bilateral trade deal. Israel refused to allow LBJ administration-Egyptian negotiations to de-escalate the 1967 crisis, preferring instead to sneak attack Egypt by air and precipitate the Six-Day War. The country and its agents thwarted JFK’s nuclear non-proliferation initiatives by not only diverting inspectors, but stealing material, know-how and technology from the US During the Eisenhower administration, alongside its allies France and the UK, Israel attacked Egypt, attempting to seize the Suez Canal. Unlike France and the UK, Israel deployed false flag terror attacks against US Information Agency facilities. None of these actions triggered a cut in US aid to Israel, which has received more US aid than any other foreign country. (PDF)

Exhibit 4: Inflation-adjusted US aid to Israel 1949-2016 is $254 Billion



The oft-repeated claims – including by Frisch – that US and Israeli values are similar also requires scrutiny. There are no credible surveys revealing any similarity in values. Israel appears to discourage (by refusing to provide funding) fielding the gold-standard in this category, the World Values Survey, over fears that the results may verifiably debunk this commonplace and useful assertion. The Anti-Defamation League – a key Israel lobby organization policing discourse about Israel – apparently similarly fears fielding its own global surveys in Israel.

Israel’s actions are so clearly not those of an ally that greater awareness of the situation – facilitated by the growth of new media – may be the reason most Americans now oppose US aid to Israel. It is also observable that the loudest, most insistent forces lobbying for aid to Israel are Israel Affinity Organizations that make up the Israel lobby, not military contractors, strategic scholars or independent national security analysts.

The fact that Israel provides little in return for US aid is visible in the new – formerly undisclosed – ten-year "Memorandum of Understanding" for the US to provide $38 billion to Israel. It provides almost nothing concrete in the way of specific justifications for providing the aid, only homilies and detailed American obligations. More worryingly the MOU could reward Israel for launching future military actions in order to extract more US aid.

The process by which Israel obtains aid – through the activities of a vast domestic lobby it helped establish – reveals why the funds it extracts from taxpayers should not be compared to equally troubling military alliance expenditures. A $3.7 billion, 14,000 employee, 353,000 volunteer Israel affinity nonprofit ecosystem has been built in the United States to provide Israel with the support that following America’s own interests would not. The approaching annual spectacle of thousands of AIPAC lobbyists subtly threatening to withhold vast amounts of campaign contributions from members of Congress if they don’t provide billions in unconditional taxpayer-funded aid – portrays an entirely accurate picture about the means through which it is obtained.

This Israel lobby-driven process and lack of reciprocity is why US aid to Israel cannot seriously be compared to mutual expenditures – equally unpopular and in need of reexamination – with treaty-bound US allies.

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