Numerous American leaders over the decades have expressed their perception that Israel and the USA have a “special relationship,”  that Israel’s enemies are America’s enemies, and that American aid to Israel is money well spent. Most recently, these sentiments were articulated by House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, Senator Harry Reid, Vice President Joe Biden, and President Barack Obama. They continue to be in favor of the continued American financial support for Israel, amounting to about $3,000,000,000 per year in recent years. 
Yet critics of Israel complain that the USA gives too much money to Israel and that the “special relationship” is a liability for the USA.  These critics support their assessments with wildly exaggerated claims regarding the size of US aid to Israel, with accusations that Israel is bankrupting the USA, and with the warning that US money encourages Israeli obduracy, stokes the Israel-Arab conflict and generates anti-American sentiment in Muslim countries. In short, they blame Israel for America’s difficulties abroad.
While it is undeniable that the enemies of both the USA and Israel exploit American support for Israel to foment anti-American sentiment, it is a grave strategic error to place credence in such anti-Israel propaganda. Yet that is what the critics do, with the apparent intent to undermine the “special relationship.”
Since US support is of vital importance to Israel’s security, an examination of these critics’ claims seems worthwhile.
There are five questions that arise in the context of US aid to Israel and these accusations:
1.) Why is there an Israel-USA “special relationship,” an alliance which includes generous American aid and political support at the UN and other international venues?
2.) What is the real number of US dollars in US aid to Israel?
3.) How do we know that the critics offer exaggerated assessments of the dollar amount and spurious claims regarding its political valence and liabilities?
4.) What is the value to the USA of its generous financial support to Israel, compared to the value of similar aid to those countries which are Israel’s avowed enemies?
5.) What is the real impact of the USA’s “special relationship” with Israel upon America’s position in the Middle East and in the broader Muslim world?
The following article will address the first question. The remaining four will be answered in subsequent articles.
At the most obvious level, Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. Democracies are an endangered species, so they can be expected to support one another and to have mutually beneficial relationships stronger than those between democracies and totalitarian states.
The U.S.–Israel “special relationship” grows in part from the resonance of a common Bible and a host of Judeo-Christian features. As western democracies, Israel and the USA have shared strategic interests, shared civic and political values, and the personal, cultural, and political bonds that exist naturally between free peoples. The supreme commander of NATO operations in Europe and head of the U.S. European Command (EUCOM), General John Craddock, speaking before the U.S. House Armed Services Committee in 2007, called Israel a “model state” and America’s closest ally in the Middle East. He noted that Israel consistently and directly supports U.S. interests and U.S. policy in the region.
In fact, Israel is among the few countries in the world, and the only Middle Eastern state, to consistently stand alongside the United States on strategic issues in the UN and in other venues for international cooperation. Israel votes with the USA in the UN about 94% of the time. No other nation holds that record.
But amicable support alone cannot justify tens of billions of taxpayer dollars in US aid to Israel. Happily, the USA has two very strong reasons to conclude that money to Israel is an investment for which the American people get a truly excellent return.
First, there is a financial reciprocity in this “special relationship” quite unlike any other that the USA has. Much, and in many years most, of the money that the USA gives Israel has been used by Israel to purchase goods and services, both military and civilian, from the USA, so that American aid money is recycled back into the American economy. Nearly 90% of US aid to Israel is military, and Israel spends about 75% of that buying U.S. goods. This aid has been described as an indirect American subsidy to U.S. arms manufacturers.
But, second, there is more to this issue than merely Israel’s using American money to help the US economy. Israel is a very powerful military ally as well. The security cooperation between Israel and the United States is vast, and Israel has consistently been a major security asset to the United States, an asset upon which America can rely, far more so than have been other state recipients of American largesse.
In the field of military intelligence Israel is arguably the world’s leading expert in collecting intelligence on terrorist groups and in counter-terrorism. It provides intelligence and know-how to the U.S. According to Maj. Gen. George J. Keegan Jr., former head of U.S. Air Force intelligence, America’s military defense capability “owes more to the Israeli intelligence input than it does to any single source of intelligence,” the worth of which input, he estimated, exceeds “five CIAs.” He further stated that between 1974 and 1990, Israel received $18.3 billion in U.S. military grants. During the same period Israel provided the U.S. with $50-$80 billion in intelligence, research and development savings, and Soviet weapons systems captured and transferred to the U.S.
Israeli and American intelligence agencies continuously exchange information, analyses, and operational experience in counterterrorism and counter-proliferation. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and its Israeli counterpart share technical know-how in defending against terrorist attacks, countering unconventional weapons and cyber-threats, and combating the drug trade. On the battlefield, Israeli armaments protect Bradley and Stryker units from rocket-propelled grenades, while Israeli-made drones and reconnaissance devices allow for safe surveillance of hostile territory. U.S. fighter aircraft and helicopters incorporate Israeli concepts and components, as do modern-class U.S. warships. The IDF has furnished U.S. forces with its expertise in the detection and neutralization of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the largest cause of American casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Former Supreme Commander of NATO and U.S. Secretary of State Gen. Alexander Haig (deceased) described Israel as “the largest US aircraft carrier, which does not require even one US soldier, cannot be sunk, is the most cost-effective and battle-tested, located in a region which is critical to vital US interests. If there would not be an Israel, the US would have to deploy real aircraft carriers, along with tens of thousands of US soldiers, which would cost tens of billions of dollars annually, dragging the US unnecessarily into local, regional and global conflicts.”
In short, support for Israel has been a very profitable investment for the USA. Israel is an ideal ally for America in the Middle East. Haifa is one of the safest and most hospitable ports for the 6th Fleet, a dependable base for pre-positioning emergency military stores for deployment in neighboring countries, and a base for close-by sophisticated medical services.
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