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How the US made Israel's military what it is today

Washington has provided over $130 Billion in unrestricted aid and weapons to Tel Aviv, more than any other country, ever.

Analysis | Middle East

As one of America’s closest allies, Israel has remained heavily dependent on the US —politically, economically, and militarily—since its creation in 1948.

US arms supplies, mostly provided gratis, are channeled via US Foreign Military Financing (FMF), Military Assistance Program (MAP) and Excess Defense Articles (EDA).

According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the US has provided more foreign assistance to Israel since World War II than to any other country.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) documented that the United States supplied 79 percent of all weapons transferred to Israel from 2018-2022.

No one else was even close – the next closest suppliers were Germany with 20 percent and Italy with just 0.2 percent.

A Fact Sheet released October 2023, by the US State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, provides a detailed official breakdown on the unrestrained American security assistance to Israel.

Steadfast support for Israel’s security has been a cornerstone of American foreign policy for every U.S. Administration since the presidency of Harry S. Truman.

Since Israel’s founding in 1948, the State Department said, the United States has provided Israel with over $130 billion in bilateral assistance focused on addressing new and complex security threats, bridging Israel’s capability gaps through security assistance and cooperation, increasing interoperability through joint exercises, and helping Israel maintain its Qualitative Military Edge (QME).

This assistance, says the State Department, has helped transform the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) into “one of the world’s most capable, effective militaries and turned the Israeli military industry and technology sector into one of the largest exporters of military capabilities worldwide.”

In the current war, Israel’s overwhelming fire power has resulted in the killings of thousands of Palestinian civilians in Gaza and the destruction of entire cities—mostly with US supplied weapons.

Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a Visiting Professor of the Practice in the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, told IPS the October 7 Hamas attacks were horrendous acts and should be condemned as such.

“Even so, the Israeli responses to those attacks have been indiscriminate – intentionally so,” she said.

Two days after the Hamas attacks, Israeli defense minister Yoav Gallant declared that Israel would carry out a “complete siege” of Gaza, including blocking the supply of water, food, and fuel, while also stopping the supply of electricity. And Israeli forces have done so, she pointed out.

“The US government bears a special responsibility for the continuing Israeli attacks. It has supplied Israel with massive quantities of military aid and weaponry, and Israel has ignored US restrictions on the use of those weapons”.

This supply of weapons and ammunition allows the Israeli military to continue its indiscriminate attacks in Gaza,” said Dr Goldring, who also represents the Acronym Institute at the United Nations, on conventional weapons and arms trade issues.

“A key first step in reducing the human cost of this war is for the US government to call for an immediate ceasefire. The US government should also halt supplies of weapons and ammunition to Israel, whether from the US itself or from prepositioned stocks elsewhere.”

Since 1983, the United States and Israel have met regularly via the Joint Political-Military Group (JPMG) to promote shared policies, address common threats and concerns, and identify new areas for security cooperation.

According to the State Department, Israel is the leading global recipient of Title 22 U.S. security assistance under the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program. This has been formalized by a 10-year (2019-2028) Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).

Consistent with the MOU, the United States annually provides $3.3 billion in FMF and $500 million for cooperative programs for missile defense. Since FY 2009, the United States has provided Israel with $3.4 billion in funding for missile defense, including $1.3 billion for Iron Dome support starting in FY 2011.

Through FMF, the United States provides Israel with access to some of the most advanced military equipment in the world, including the F-35 Stealth fighter aircraft.

Israel is eligible for Cash Flow Financing and is authorized to use its annual FMF allocation to procure defense articles, services, and training through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) system, Direct Commercial Contract agreements – which are FMF-funded Direct Commercial Sales procurements – and through Off Shore Procurement (OSP).

Via OSP the current MOU allows Israel to spend a portion of its FMF on Israeli-origin rather than U.S.-origin defense articles. This was 25 percent in FY 2019 but is set to phase-out and decrease to zero in FY 2028.

Elaborating further Dr Goldring said: “Unfortunately, the situation in Gaza bears similarities to the documented uses of US weapons by the Saudi-led coalition in attacks on civilians in Yemen”

She said: “Our response should be the same in both cases. These countries have failed to honor the conditions of US weapons transfers, and should be ineligible for further transfers until they are in compliance.”

“US arms transfer decision-making gives too much weight to the judgment of government officials and politicians who frequently fail to consider the full human costs of these transfers,” she argued.

“Earlier this year, the Biden Administration released a new Conventional Arms Transfer policy. They claimed that arms transfers would not be approved when their analysis concluded that “it is more likely than not” that the arms transferred would be used to commit or facilitate the commission of serious violations of international humanitarian or human rights law.”

The actions of the Israeli and Saudi militaries are examples of ways in which this standard is not being met, declared Dr Goldring.

As of October 2023, the United States has 599 active Foreign Military Sales (FMS) cases, valued at $23.8 billion, with Israel. FMS cases notified to Congress are listed here; priority initiatives include: F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Aircraft; CH-53K Heavy Lift Helicopters; KC-46A Aerial Refueling Tankers; and precision-guided munitions.

From FY 2018 through FY 2022, the U.S. has also authorized the permanent export of over $5.7billion in defense articles to Israel via the Direct Commercial Sales (DCS) process.

The top categories of DCS to Israel were XIX-Toxicological Agents, including Chemical Agents, Biological Agents, and Associated Equipment (this includes detection equipment ((f)), vaccines ((g)-(h)) and modeling software ((i)); IV- Launch Vehicles, Guided Missiles, Ballistic Missiles, Rockets, Torpedoes, Bombs, and Mines; and VII- Aircraft.

Since 1992, the United States has provided Israel with $6.6 billion worth of equipment under the Excess Defense Articles program, including weapons, spare parts, weapons, and simulators.

U.S. European Command also maintains in Israel the U.S. War Reserve Stockpile, which can be used to boost Israeli defenses in the case of a significant military emergency.

In addition to security assistance and arms sales, the United States participates in a variety of exchanges with Israel, including military exercises like Juniper Oak and Juniper Falcon, as well as joint research, and weapons development.

The United States and Israel have signed multiple bilateral defense cooperation agreements, to include: a Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement (1952); a General Security of Information Agreement (1982); a Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (1991); and a Status of Forces Agreement (1994), according to the State Department.

Since 2011, the United States has also invested more than $8 million in Conventional Weapons Destruction programs in the West Bank to improve regional and human security through the survey and clearance of undisputed minefields.

Following years of negotiations with the Palestinians and Israelis, humanitarian mine action activities began in April 2014 – this represents the first humanitarian clearance of landmine contamination in nearly five decades.

Israel has also been designated as a U.S. Major Non-NATO Ally under U.S. law. This status provides foreign partners with certain benefits in the areas of defense trade and security cooperation and is a powerful symbol of their close relationship with the United States.

This piece has been republished with permissionfromInter Press Service.

An Israeli Air Force F-35I Lightning II “Adir” approaches a U.S. Air Force 908th Expeditionary Refueling Squadron KC-10 Extender to refuel during “Enduring Lightning II” exercise over southern Israel Aug. 2, 2020. While forging a resolute partnership, the allies train to maintain a ready posture to deter against regional aggressors. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Patrick OReilly)
An Israeli Air Force F-35I Lightning II “Adir” approaches a U.S. Air Force 908th Expeditionary Refueling Squadron KC-10 Extender to refuel during “Enduring Lightning II” exercise over southern Israel Aug. 2, 2020. While forging a resolute partnership, the allies train to maintain a ready posture to deter against regional aggressors. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Patrick OReilly)
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