But these figures, while reflecting official direct US military aid, are almost meaningless in comparison to the real costs and benefits of US military aid – above all, American boots on the ground. In reality, Israel receives only a small fraction of American military aid, and most of that was spent in the US to the benefit of the American economy.
Countless articles discrediting Israel (as well as many other better-intentioned articles) ask how it is that a country as small as Israel receives the bulk of US military aid. Israel receives 55%, or $US3.1 billion per year, followed by Egypt, which receives 23%.
This largesse comes at the expense, so it is claimed, of other equal or more important allies, such as Germany, Japan, and South Korea. The complaint conjures the specter of an all-powerful Israel lobby that has turned the US Congress into its pawn.
The response to the charge is simple: Israel is not even a major beneficiary of American military aid. The numerical figure reflects official direct US military aid, but is almost meaningless compared to the real costs and benefits of US military aid – which include, above all, American boots on the ground in the host states.
There are 150,500 American troops stationed in seventy countries around the globe. This costs the American taxpayer an annual $US85-100 billion, according to David Vine, a professor at American University and author of a book on the subject. In other words, 800-1,000 American soldiers stationed abroad represent US$565-665 million of annual aid to the country in which they are located.
Once the real costs are calculated, the largest aid recipient is revealed to be Japan, where 48,828 US military personnel are stationed. This translates into a US military aid package of over US$27 billion (calculated according to Vine’s lower estimation). Germany, with 37,704 US troops on its soil, receives aid equivalent to around US$21 billion; South Korea, with 27,553 US troops, receives over US$15 billion; and Italy receives at least US$6 billion.
If Vine’s estimate is correct, Japan’s US military aid package is nine times larger than that of Israel, Germany’s is seven times larger, and Italy’s is twice as large. The multipliers are even greater for Egypt. Even the Lilliputian Gulf states, Kuwait and Bahrain, whose American bases are home to over 5,000 US military personnel apiece, receive military aid almost equal to what Israel receives.
Yet even these figures grossly underestimate the total costs of US aid to its allies. The cost of maintaining troops abroad does not reflect the considerable expense, deeply buried in classified US military expenditure figures, of numerous US air and sea patrols. Nor does it reflect the high cost of joint ground, air, and maritime exercises with host countries (events only grudgingly acknowledged on NATO’s official site).
US air and naval forces constantly patrol the Northern, Baltic, and China Seas to protect American allies in Europe and in the Pacific – at American expense. Glimpses of the scale of these operations are afforded by incidents like the shadowing of a Russian ship in the Baltics, near run-ins between Chinese Coast Guard ships and US Navy ships dispatched to challenge Chinese claims in the South China Sea, and near collisions between US Air Force planes and their Chinese counterparts in the same area.
In striking contrast, no US plane has ever flown to protect Israel’s airspace. No US Navy ship patrols to protect Israel’s coast. And most importantly, no US military personnel are put at risk to ensure Israel’s safety.
In Japan, South Korea, Germany, Kuwait, Qatar, the Baltic states, Poland, and elsewhere, US troops are a vulnerable trip-wire. It is hoped that their presence will deter attack, but there is never any assurance that an attack will not take place. Should such an attack occur, it will no doubt cost American lives.
This cannot happen in Israel, which defends its own turf with its own troops. There is no danger that in Israel, the US might find itself embroiled in wars like those it waged in Iraq and Afghanistan at a cost of US$4 trillion, according to Linda J. Bilmes, a public policy professor and Harvard University researcher.
Japan’s presence at the top of the list of US military aid recipients is both understandable and debatable. It is understandable because Japan is critical to US national security in terms of maintaining freedom of the seas and containing a rising China.
It is debatable because Japan is a rich country that ought to pay for the US troops stationed within it – or in lieu of that, to significantly strengthen its own army. At present, the Japanese army numbers close to 250,000, but it is facing the rapidly expanding military power of its main adversary, China. A similar case can be made with regard to Germany, both in terms of its wealth and its contribution towards meeting the Russian threat.
What is incomprehensible is not why Israel receives so much US military aid, but why Japan has received nine times more aid than Israel does. This is a curious proportion given the relative power Israel possesses in the Middle East and its potential to advance vital US security interests in times of crisis, compared to the force maintained by Japan relative to China.
Ever since the Turkish parliament’s decision in March 2003 not to join the US-led coalition, and the Turkish government’s refusal to allow movement of American troops across its borders, 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 vital US interests.
It takes little imagination to envision these potential threats. Iran might decide to occupy Bahrain, which has a Shiite majority seriously at odds with the ruling Sunni monarchy. It might take over the United Arab Emirates, which plays a major role in the air offensive against the Houthis, Iran’s proxies in the war in Yemen.
There might be a combined Syrian and Iraqi bid to destabilize Sunni Jordan, in the event that both states subdue their Sunni rebels. Any of these moves would threaten vital energy supplies to the US and its allies. Only Israel can be depended upon completely to provide bases and utilities for a US response and to participate in the effort if needed.
The politicians, pundits, and IR scholars who attack Israel and the Israeli lobby for extracting the lion’s share of US military aid from a gullible Congress know full well that this is not true. Israel receives a small fraction of the real outlays of military aid the US indirectly gives its allies and other countries.
These experts also know that 74% of military aid to Israel was spent on American arms, equipment, and services. Under the recently signed Memorandum of Understanding, that figure will be changed to 100%. The experts simply cite the wrong figures.
The US is now led by a businessman president who knows his dollars and cents. He has been adamant about the need to curb free-riding by the large recipients of real US aid. He will, one hopes, appreciate the security bargain the US has with Israel – a country that not only shares many common values with the US, but can make a meaningful contribution to American vital interests with no trip-wires attached.
Historically, Jews have existed and have enjoyed independence in their homeland long before there was an “America” and even long before there was the empire of neo-classical antiquity on which the American Fathers have modeled their new creation: Rome.
In modern times, America has done nothing to help in the crucial early stages of the Zionist movement, from its inception in the 1880’s and until the Second World War. In the Holocaust itself, the vast majority of the European Jewry, including my parents, was saved from annihilation by Stalin rather than by FDR.
Had Stalin not enabled the evacuation of Soviet Jews from the western reaches of the Soviet Empire that were soon to be occupied by Nazi Germany to Central Asia, Israel would have lost its largest pool of repatriates and no matter how much Americans like to think otherwise, the war against Nazi Germany was already won by Russia when Operation Overlord (Normandy Landing) started in June of 1944.
American involvement in the War was supremely important and its sacrifice should be honored at every opportunity, but it was guided more by the justified fear of Soviet expansionism than by the already defeated Nazi Germany.
In the crucial period between the Allied victory over Germany in May of 1945 to Israel’s declaration of independence exactly three years later, the US did absolutely nothing to help the creation of the Jewish state. It provided the so-called “Yeshuv” (literally, “the Settlement”, the name Jews in the Holy Land called themselves prior to independence) with neither money nor weaponry, both of which it sorely needed.
Instead, Jews were helped by individual contributors from America and elsewhere and by sympathetic European countries like Czechoslovakia, with every rifle, every machine gun bought and paid for in the European black markets for surplus arms.
The US did not pressure England, as it doubtlessly could have done, to shift its blatantly pro-Arab and anti-Jewish policies and allow the repatriation of the survivors of the Holocaust from Europe to Israel.
Instead, it turned a blind eye when Britain captured ships full of Jews who have experienced unimaginable horrors in German death camps, turned them away from the Promised Land, and interned them in concentration camps on Cyprus, all in an effort to aid their Arab clients in so-called “Palestine”.
In the United Nations, Truman voted “aye” on Israeli independence, but so did Joseph Stalin and in the years that followed, years in which Israel’s very existence truly hung in the balance, the US offered little or no help. Israeli nuclear program was started with French technology and the IDF had mostly French and British surplus arms when it achieved its glorious victory over three Arab nations in the 1967 Six Day War.
This victory, combined with the rapidly escalating Cold War, caused Russia to switch its support from Israel to the Arabs, severing diplomatic relations with Israel and gaining in return the allegiance of both Egypt and in Syria.
At the risk of being muscled out from the Middle East by its Cold War nemesis, America reluctantly adopted Israel as its client state in the region, a reluctance that was on full display when only six years later Richard Nixon and his secretary of state the very Jewish Henry Kissinger threatened prime minister Golda Meir with severe consequences if she ordered a 1967-like preemptive attack against the gathering Arab forces or even called up the reserves.
As a result of this threat (among other, more homemade errors in judgment) Israel was caught unprepared with nearly disastrous consequences when Egypt and Syria simultaneously attacked it on the Day of Atonement in 1973. Only the explicit threat of Israeli nuclear response when the 1973 Yom Kippur War was going poorly could bring about American emergency military aid without which the war would have been lost.
The myth of the three billion dollar a year American aid to Israel was born around that time. It is a myth, because nearly all of that money never leaves the US having been paid to defense contractors like Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics.
The resulting “free” weaponry shipments to Israel come with heavy strings attached, something that Israel found out in the mid to late 1980’s when it had developed and built the “Lavi”, a fighter jet that could favorably compete with the American-made F-16, only to have the project shut down via another “do it or else” command from Washington.
Today, American military “aid” constitutes no more than a fraction of a percent of Israel’s GDP and is used mostly as leverage to stop Israel from selling its internally developed military technologies, technologies that are part and parcel of many of the most advanced American weapons systems, to China and other BRIC countries.
As always and today more than ever, Israel’s fate lies not with Washington, which is becoming less and less relevant to Israel’s well-being, but in Israel itself, and more specifically with its people, or even more precisely with the roughly 80% of its people who are Jewish.