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The Folly of Arming Israel

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Posted on Feb 10, 2014

phauly (CC BY-SA 2.0)

By Chase Madar, TomDispatch

This piece first appeared at TomDispatch. Read Nick Turse’s introduction here.

We Americans have funny notions about foreign aid. Recent polls show that, on average, we believe 28% of the federal budget is eaten up by it, and that, in a time of austerity, this gigantic bite of the budget should be cut back to 10%. In actual fact, barely 1% of the federal budget goes to foreign aid of any kind.

In this case, however, truth is at least as strange as fiction.  Consider that the top recipient of U.S. foreign aid over the past three decades isn’t some impoverished land filled with starving kids, but a wealthy nation with a per-head gross domestic product on par with the European Union average, and higher than that of Italy, Spain, or South Korea.

Consider also that this top recipient of such aid—nearly all of it military since 2008—has been busily engaged in what looks like a nineteenth-century-style colonization project. In the late 1940s, our beneficiary expelled some 700,000 indigenous people from the land it was claiming.  In 1967,  our client seized some contiguous pieces of real estate and ever since has been colonizing these territories with nearly 650,000 of its own people. It has divided the conquered lands with myriad checkpoints and roads accessible only to the colonizers and is building a 440-mile wall around (and cutting into) the conquered territory, creating a geography of control that violates international law.

“Ethnic cleansing” is a harsh term, but apt for a situation in which people are driven out of their homes and lands because they are not of the right tribe. Though many will balk at leveling this charge against Israel—for that country is, of course, the top recipient of American aid and especially military largesse—who would hesitate to use the term if, in a mirror-image world, all of this were being inflicted on Israeli Jews?

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Military Aid to Israel

Arming and bankrolling a wealthy nation acting in this way may, on its face, seem like terrible policy. Yet American aid has been flowing to Israel in ever greater quantities. Over the past 60 years, in fact, Israel has absorbed close to a quarter-trillion dollars in such aid. Last year alone, Washington sent some $3.1 billion in military aid, supplemented by allocations for collaborative military research and joint training exercises.

Overall, the United States covers nearly one quarter of Israel’s defense budget—from tear gas canisters to F-16 fighter jets. In their 2008-2009 assault on Gaza, the Israeli Defense Forces made use of M-92 and M-84 “dumb bombs,” Paveway II and JDAM guided “smart bombs,” AH-64 Apache attack helicopters equipped with AGM-114 Hellfire guided missiles, M141 “bunker defeat” munitions, and special weapons like M825A1 155mm white phosphorous munitions—all supplied as American foreign aid. (Uniquely among Washington’s aid recipients, Israel is also permitted to spend 25% of the military funding from Washington on weapons made by its own weapons industry.)

Why is Washington doing this? The most common answer is the simplest: Israel is Washington’s “ally.” But the United States has dozens of allies around the world, none of which are subsidized in anything like this fashion by American taxpayer dollars. As there is no formal treaty alliance between the two nations and given the lopsided nature of the costs and benefits of this relationship, a far more accurate term for Israel’s tie to Washington might be “client state.” 

And not a particularly loyal client either. If massive military aid is supposed to give Washington leverage over Israel (as it normally does in client-state relationships), it is difficult to detect. In case you hadn’t noticed, rare is the American diplomatic visit to Israel that is not greeted with an in-your-face announcement of intensified colonization of Palestinian territory, euphemistically called “settlement expansion.”

Washington also provides aid to Palestine totaling, on average, $875 million annually in Obama’s first term (more than double what George W.  Bush gave in his second term). That’s a little more than a quarter of what Israel gets.  Much of it goes to projects of dubious net value like the development of irrigation networks at a moment when the Israelis are destroying Palestinian cisterns and wells elsewhere in the West Bank. Another significant part of that funding goes toward training the Palestinian security forces. Known as “Dayton forces” (after the American general, Keith Dayton, who led their training from 2005 to 2010), these troops have a grim human rights record that includes acts of torture, as Dayton himself has admitted. One former Dayton deputy, an American colonel, described these security forces to al-Jazeera as an outsourced “third Israeli security arm.” According to Josh Ruebner, national advocacy director for the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation and author of Shattered Hopes: Obama’s Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace, American aid to Palestine serves mainly to entrench the Israeli occupation.


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