Views expressed in opinion columns are the author's own.
March 28 marked the final day of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference. Thousands of people from around the country came to the event, and AIPAC again proved to be one of the most powerful interest groups on Capitol Hill. One of the markers of the strong U.S.-Israel relationship AIPAC helped cultivate is the more than $3 billion in military aid the United States gives to Israel annually.
However, there were also hundreds of people, mostly young Jews, protesting the three-day AIPAC conference because of settlement expansion in the West Bank and the conditions of Palestinians living under Israeli rule. While some claim the alliance is a natural or moral one, what both the protesters and supporters forget is that foreign policy is rarely about morals; it's almost always driven by self-interest and this relationship is no exception.
The real reason the United States is so heavily invested in this relationship is because such a partnership increases U.S. political influence, enhances its military capability and helps stimulate its defense sector. Yet, for Israel, it makes them militarily, politically and economically dependent on a foreign power. Almost three-fourths of the more than $3 billion in aid has to be spent on U.S. goods and services; moreover, under the new agreement, Israel will eventually have to spend all the aid with U.S. contractors. This means spending money purchasing defense equipment abroad, which also debilitates Israel's defense sector and its ability to make its own weapons.
In fact, some experts saw the most recent aid deal as a huge win for U.S. defense contractors, but noted it "could deprive Israel's security firms of roughly $10 billion over the next decade, a vast sum for a crucial sector of the country's economy." Because of this, Israel's ability to make independent decisions is also hindered. This was especially true during the 2014 Gaza war when President Obama endeavored to withhold hellfire missiles Israel had ordered in an attempt to force Israel to end the fighting.
Other than short-term defense benefits, the biggest advantage Israel receives from this relationship is in the political arena. The U.S. has defended Israel on the world stage and often used its veto power on the United Nations Security Council to protect the Jewish state. However, for the U.S., that is a small price to pay for having a strong, stable ally in the Middle East that assists in counterterrorism measures and contributes to new defense tactics and technology.
Therefore, the U.S. is not doing Israel a favor when it gives aid. Giving aid is a tactical decision, one that might be harmful to Israel in the long run. Even when relations are icy, as they were between Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the U.S. still continued to give Israel more aid than it gives to any other country in the world.
If protesters are calling on the U.S. to change the dynamic of the relationship and apply political pressure on Israel, they need to stop talking about it in moral terms and begin asking how changing the dynamic with Israel would benefit the self-interest of the U.S. Currently, for every dollar Israel spends on its military, the U.S. defense industry makes 74 cents. In a relationship with a dynamic like that, the U.S. has little impetus to change or risk pushing Israel away. And if supporters want to encourage a positive U.S.-Israel relationship, then they should be pushing Israel to bargain for a healthier one — one that is beneficial for both the United States and Israel in the long term. Because of the imbalanced nature of this relationship, both supporters and protesters will need to re-evaluate their strategy if they want to accomplish their goals in a Darwinist world of international relations.
Moshe Klein is a sophomore economics and government & politics major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this column incorrectly stated Israel must spend nearly three-fourths of its U.S. aid on American goods. Those were the conditions under the previous aid package; the new aid package requires Israel to spend all its U.S. aid on American goods. This column has been updated.
CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, this column was previously updated to incorrectly state Israel must spend all its U.S. aid on American goods. That provision does not take effect until fiscal 2028. This column has been updated.