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January 31st, 2009
11:59 PM ET

Aid to Israel, and the bang for those bucks

Dave Schechter
CNN Senior National Editor

The new administration in Washington has dipped its pita into the hummus early.

In his interview with the Arabic-language television channel Al-Arabiya, President Barack Obama said he told U.S. envoy George Mitchell to ". . . start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating – in the past on some of these issues – and we don't always know all the factors that are involved."

Mitchell likely is getting an earful from Arab leaders about U.S. military aid to Israel, particularly how Israel uses the weaponry it buys with that money.

That money also pays for something else – tens of thousands of jobs in the United States, all the more noteworthy when the U.S. unemployment rate is 7.2 percent.

You might say it's the bang the U.S. economy gets for those bucks.

U.S. military aid to Israel totaled $2.4 billion for fiscal year 2008, increased to $2.55 billion for fiscal year 2009 and is expected to reach $3.1 billion by fiscal year 2018.*

The asterisk is at the end of that sentence because those numbers are from the "foreign military financing" portion of U.S. aid and do not include the value of other programs providing material or financial support that benefits Israel's military and research-and-development program.

A unique provision in their aid agreement allows Israel to spend a significant portion of U.S. aid in Israel; roughly 26 percent of the money (making up an estimated 20 percent of Israel's defense budget).

The other 74 percent – about $2 billion a year – stays in the United States to finance Israeli purchases of U.S.-made products, ranging from fighter jets and helicopters to bullets and missiles, spare tank parts and fuel to bulldozers and more.

Israel spends those taxpayer dollars on contracts with companies that have facilities and employees in a lot of states that elect a lot of members of Congress.

How many jobs?

Spokesmen for two defense industry trade groups could not site an equation that "x" number of dollars in defense spending supports "x" number of jobs.

But a 2007 report by economists at the University of Massachusetts equated 8,555 jobs for each $1 billion invested in the military – with average wages and benefits of nearly $66,000.

By this formula, U.S. military aid to Israel supports roughly 20,000 jobs directly (in line with an estimate by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the leading pro-Israel lobby) and untold thousands more at suppliers and businesses in related fields.

Opponents of defense spending point out that the report said fewer jobs are created by investing in the military as compared with other sectors, such as health care, education and mass transit.

Military aid is a long-standing tool of U.S. foreign policy. Israel has been the largest recipient (more than $53 billion since 1949, the annual amount increasing significantly after the 1973 Yom Kippur war), reflective of its position as a democratic American ally in an often unfriendly region and the strength of domestic American political support.

"U.S. military aid for Israel has been designed to maintain Israel's qualitative edge over neighboring militaries, since Israel must rely on better equipment and training to compensate for a manpower deficit in any potential regional conflict. U.S. military aid . . . also has helped Israel to build a domestic defense industry, which ranks as one of the top ten suppliers of arms worldwide," said a 2008 report by the Congressional Research Service.

Israel's supporters lobby Congress to make sure that Israel maintains that qualitative edge. "Strengthening America's ally through foreign aid also serves as one of the driving forces in shaping a region – dominated by unstable, non-democratic regimes – that remains of vital strategic importance to the United States. American assistance enables Israel to confront serious threats to its security such as terrorism, weapons proliferation and economic and political instability. Israel, in turn, shares with the United States its expertise and technology, contributing to our efforts to combat common enemies and protect our troops and homeland. Israel also helps counter the proliferation of dangerous weapons that threaten both nations," reads a statement by AIPAC.

The debate over how weapons bought from the U.S. are used centers on the Arms Control Export Act, which stipulates that they be used for "internal security," including anti-terrorism; "legitimate self defense" and "regional or collective arrangements or measures consistent with the Charter of the United Nations." Aid can be halted if the provisions are violated.

From the Israeli perspective using those weapons to prevent terrorism within its borders and to combat attacks launched from outside borders (such as the thousands of rockets launched from Gaza by Hamas) meet the tests of internal security and legitimate self-defense.

Palestinians contend that Israel's use of U.S.-made weapons violates the arms control act and makes the U.S. complicit in atrocities.

A week ago, a coalition of 19 groups (mostly, but not all Muslim) purchased an ad in The New York Times calling on President Obama to "reevaluate" aid to Israel. "As American citizens we are deeply concerned that our nation's one-sided approach to the Middle East crisis compromises America's ability to act as a fair negotiator. Our foreign policy has upheld the interests of Israel, but has failed to do the same for the Palestinian people. Israel-the fourth largest military power in the world-has devastated a population of 1.5 million people, one without an army, navy, or air force. As the attacks in Gaza demonstrated, the outgoing administration chose to defend Israeli aggression even though the violence resulted in the disproportionate deaths of more than 1,300 Palestinians, including 300 children, as compared to 13 Israelis. Indeed, the loss of all of these lives cannot be justified," the ad read.

If he follows the President's admonition to listen, envoy Mitchell will return home with severely bent ears.


Filed under: Barack Obama • David Schechter • Israel • Raw Politics
soundoff (25 Responses)
  1. Hadiya

    Yeah, we should all be happy we are getting jobs
    by giving weapons to child-murders

    Great, next thing you know we'll be getting rich by selling drugs

    same thing you know? they both kill.

    jim Fallbrook CA:
    Yeah...really? Well if Palestine was America, and Israel was Canada...are we going to be raging about Muslims or Christians? no we would be fighting for our land no matter who the enemy...and your overlooking that...your just seeing black and white. bad and good.Well open your eyes little and see why they don't' negotiate. because i sure as heck wouldn't want to negotiate with people who kill and say 'peace', and keep on taking my land.

    And you know what Jim? Muslims aren't the only ones fighting for their land. You, not the Muslim Palestinians, seem to neglect the existence of Christian Palestinians

    And plus...don't go to the Middle east to find Muslim leaders...just like don't go to all those dictators and say 'Christians. Muslims are people like everyone else...just that some people like you have their facts messed up

    February 2, 2009 at 6:30 pm |
  2. ROBERT, ACTON MA

    David Schechter

    You appear to justify the military aid to Israel because it is good for the US economy and creates jobs.

    With that argument, why don't we sell more guns and rockets to alll the countries in the world and tell them to go to war, that way our economy will improve and create more jobs.

    Your argument is a moral disaster.

    February 2, 2009 at 3:46 pm |
  3. oldtimer

    We as Americans are helping Israel murder and kill these innocent children in Gaza. Your tax dollars at work, how precious. We should all be outraged that our money is killing other human beings around the globe. But i guess it is a cheap form of intertainment for all the couch potatoes.

    February 2, 2009 at 3:28 pm |
  4. JC- Los Angeles

    While America continues to lend military and financial aid abroad, we fall further and further behind here at home.

    While Israel is an ally in the Middle East, what does Israel do in terms of reciprocation for all the support they receive from non Jews?

    February 2, 2009 at 12:05 pm |
  5. Michael "C" Lorton, Virginia

    It comes down to; when money talks--the truth can be stretched or remains hidden. If you want to play--you have got to pay.

    February 2, 2009 at 8:38 am |
  6. Te'oma

    One has to ask, "How committed to peace is Israel" in light of a few articles that I found in Ha'aretz.
    The first is this one:
    http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1060043.html
    which describes how Israeli settlements have been built, with the knowledge and help of Israeli politicians, on land that Israel has stolen from the Palestinian owners.
    It seems that when Palestinians try to fight back against the thieves that are stealing their homnes, the US ups the dollar value of it's military aid package to make sure that the thieves can fight back

    February 2, 2009 at 4:25 am |
  7. Mark L Holland

    What Islam does in Islamic lands and to Islamic people is their business. Israel on the other hand are invaders non Moslems who took Islamic land by force and has treated Moslems as being less then human.

    Israel provides more then enough material to comment on. And the victims of an invader have the right to do all things in defence.

    February 1, 2009 at 9:31 pm |
  8. VPCAM

    U.S. pays $ 10 million per day. Stop the payment because it is not worth the investment.

    February 1, 2009 at 8:53 pm |
  9. Janet SC

    ...IF the global economy and empire is going to work, it must include the entire globe.
    Arming and aiding countries against each other and favoring one against the other is NUTS..

    February 1, 2009 at 1:58 pm |
  10. Laya

    The questions should be, Why is Gaza still under complete closure??? Why haven't the American/ Isreali terror of mostly killing children stopped??? Occupation never last, theft of land is rough. Palestinians will never forget, and for what is allowed to continue, will never forgive. Occupation stupid is the issue.

    February 1, 2009 at 11:46 am |
  11. jim Fallbrook CA

    Israel needs all the support from America. They are the only pro wes country in that region. As we all know (except for left wing liberals), you can't negotiate with muslims. History proves that. It is like negotiating with a brick wall. The so called cease fire was already violated by Hamas firing rockets into israel. The comments I hear about every country hates America and Israel. Maybe they don't know that 98% of terrorist acts are committed by muslims. The so called theory of winning hearts and minds of muslims won't work. The only way to resolve anything with muslims is with brute force and unconditional surrender. How do you think Saddam Hussein kept peace in Iraq for almost 40 years with Sunni's, Shiites and the kurds who hated each other?

    February 1, 2009 at 10:57 am |
  12. MarsChild

    CNN, Why are you not reporting the continued missle attacks on Israel AFTER THE CEASE FIRE? A missle landed today in between 2 preschools. Luckily, it malfunctioned and did not explode.

    Please read 2 comments from Nuria Coe. She is well informed.

    February 1, 2009 at 4:25 am |
  13. J.V.Hodgson

    In terms of the relative military capabilities of Israel or Hamas or Hizbollah. It is clear who in a military sense can "win" Israel.
    The point is for both Israel, Hamas and Hizbollah a certain amount of Military strength is going to be needed for Internal security only please.
    The middle east war(s) status (remember it includes Syria, Lebanaon and Palestine, but especially Gaza. These will only be resolved by winning the hearts and mind of the majority of people in all those nations.
    There are 4/5 key issues. Borders and the security of same,Settlements, abandonment of Military or war like action and the most difficult Jerusalem. UN needs to be involved not just America.
    Maybe an idea is come up with relatively simple ideas to solve those( 2/3 options if necessary) and put it ( them) to a referendum in each state.
    Take those results and then make a negotiation plan and include all involved including Hamas, Hizbollah on the basis these items are the will of the respective peoples, not just politicians
    Hope Mitchell talks to everybody cause if he does not this will still be a problem 60 years from now.
    Stop telling us all America does not talk to terrorists. If thats your position stop pussy footing around and Annihilate them as the world did with Hitler at enormous manpower and economic blight and cost.
    Problem: too many Muslims and islamics who do not want Western style democracy or western religious views. Polygamy and women as second calss citizens is thier way as of now changing those can only come from within the Muslim and Islamic world and if they are happy with those and so called Theocracy , so be it.
    May our respective gods go with us all. Start with that President Obama when negotiating.And let peace be unto to us all . Both of those attack the core justification of Al Qaeda.
    Regards,
    Hodgson.

    February 1, 2009 at 3:08 am |
  14. Steve, Glendale

    I don't care what the politics are and who started it first. I don't want my tax dollars going to Israel in the form of weapons and money so they can use them to kill children. Let them finance their own massacres and vendettas. Less people would hate us.

    February 1, 2009 at 1:42 am |
  15. jarrod

    I want to know where money in off shore acounts by anyone (arafat, madoff, ect) is going to be worth any anything here soon every country is failing and there money is going to be gone , california is getting ready to start issuing IOU's in its largest county and that just the beginning they think the stimulus package is going help (probably (but for how long)) the welfare system is eliminating cases by the day and new ones applying the old ones have nothing else and the fact is they don't. we owe more than we make to other countries and have our own burden's if we help them (foreign countries) we at the hands poverty if help ourselves we our at the hand of poverty and probably world war 3 along with a civil war here in the US at this point is not far fetched I am a white man that hopes President Obama can detour the racism but if not even though he has a white mother failure has no shame and he will be blamed April 15 is fast approaching and our government is this badly effected wait until everyonge ask for an IOU in the way of entension to pay there taxes.

    thanks for reading even though i probably didn't stay on subject just type what i feel with a topic in mind

    January 31, 2009 at 9:31 pm |
  16. concern/denver Colorado

    I am glad Mitchell is there ...But this is a problem only Israeli and palestinans can solve ...And every country always ask the united states for funds ...so that isn't anything new ....listern to Afghanstinand now Iran wants us to apologize next will be money ...once we get off the need of their oil ...then they will really see the change we mean ...sense they keep asking ...and they will have to start spending some of that oil money ..for their wants and needs ..

    January 31, 2009 at 6:46 pm |
  17. KAREN

    Gaza is in such a disary they live in slums they dont freedom of movement ,israel treats the palestin people like the nitzi s treated jues, this has to stop the palestin people want to live free .

    January 31, 2009 at 5:46 pm |
  18. KAREN

    Ive beem trying to find out us policeys on israel,why are wepons being made in isreal and not here we need jobs despertley,while we pay Isreal tax payers money to help them ,why, we need to change policey .

    January 31, 2009 at 5:26 pm |
  19. earle,florida

    Taking both sides in consideration regarding Hamas,and Israel,there are some hidden facts to ferret out. Are the true motives of Hamas to bring equality to their people? Or is there a more sinister plot unwinding? I've heard of a huge,"Gas Deposit Discovery" just offshore of Gaza worth Quad-Billions $USD! The fact that Arafat took most of the world's financial aid meant for his people, and put it in offshore bank accounts in his name, or family members since his death, is no suprise to the wolrd anymore. It simply is a fact, that their (Palestinian) leaders are greedy! I'll leave others to figure out just what their real agenda was meant to accomplish, when even Hezbolla was against their unprovoked action? Yes indeed, Israel should have" America's Foreign Aide" reigned in for it's inequalities to the region,and more efficiently dispersed to their less fortunate indigenous neighbors. America should be seen as a non-partisan entity in the region,with only one mission,that as a peacemaker, not as an enabler,... Thanks,I hope I stayed on subject

    January 31, 2009 at 4:14 pm |
  20. Mike in NYC

    I must admit I didn't see this rationale coming.

    Aid to Israel creates jobs. So it's a good thing.

    Keep the imaginative excuses coming.

    January 31, 2009 at 3:15 pm |
  21. Mary V., Salt Lake City, UT

    WE NEED TO STOP FOREIGN AID TO ALL NATIONS!

    WE NEED THE MONEY AT HOME!

    January 31, 2009 at 2:07 pm |
  22. Carlos

    Very informative. I've been on several blogs where people are being critical of the aid given to Israel. But none of those who are critical seem to have a clue as to the financial benefit this arrangement has for the US. They merely classify the aid as "welfare payments".

    January 31, 2009 at 2:06 pm |
  23. Affan

    $50 billion in aid to a country that is on the verge of moral bankruptcy? Many Americans are waking up to this reality but unfortunately still many live in ignorance to the injustices committed by Israel. There is a good reason to why America and Israel are hated across the world. And part of the blame falls on American media, why don't i see one news story on CNN.com where they mentioned about the secret Israeli database that shows the full extent of illegal settlement? I can easily find this news story on leftist Israeli newspapers and many European newspapers.

    January 31, 2009 at 1:29 pm |
  24. Nuria Coe

    The numbers of casualties on both sides can tell us a lot more than that:

    The Israelis have been trying to protect their own population. there are bomb shelters on every single playground, market, school, everywhere. They have an alarm system that allows them 15 seconds (15 seconds!) to get to shelter before a missile strikes.

    Hamas is trying to make martyrs out of the Palestinians, purposefully packing them on the rooftops and against the sides of buildings that the IDF told them ahead of time they were going to destroy. The bigger the number, the worse it looks for Israel, and unfortunately, it's working, because nobody is asking the tough questions.

    January 31, 2009 at 11:43 am |
  25. Nuria Coe

    At the same time, when are the oil-rich Arab countries going to start helping the Palestinians with things other than suicide-bomber belts, training camps, and "handmade rockets"?

    When are they going to show outrage at the slayings of Palestinians from Hamas's own people? When are they going to denounce what other Arab "brothers" are doing in Darfur?

    When is the UN going to show any sign of outrage at the persistent violation of children's rights at the hands of Hamas? Why the silence on the other side?

    January 31, 2009 at 11:37 am |