President Obama has promised increased U.S. arms shipments to Israel, Saudi Arabia and other Middle East allies concerned about the nuclear agreement with Iran.
In an Aug. 19 letter to Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Obama detailed an impressive and costly list of “our enhanced support for Israel.”
Obama pointed out that the administration is holding talks with Israeli officials to extend for an additional decade the Bush administration’s 10-year, $30 billion plan to pay for Israel’s foreign military purchases of equipment and training, mostly from U.S. firms. The agreement was signed in 2007 and runs out in fiscal 2018. The new deal would “cement for the next decade our unprecedented levels of military assistance,” Obama said in the Nadler letter.
Current discussions involve raising the annual amount, which at $3.1 billion a year is more than half of all U.S. foreign military sales support worldwide, to possibly $3.5 billion a year. At that level it would almost equal 20 percent of Israel’s entire defense budget. Another unique element of the Israeli weapons purchase program is that up to 26.3 percent of the U.S. money can be spent for Israeli-manufactured military equipment.
Ironically, the U.S. promise of increased aid to Israel’s defense budget comes as the Pentagon is facing budgetary pressures and Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is having an internal debate over “efficiency reforms” recommended in the Israel Defense Forces.
A June 10 Congressional Research Service study found that the U.S. military assistance has not only “helped transform Israel’s armed forces into one of the most technologically sophisticated militaries in the world,” but also “helped Israel build a domestic defense industry, which ranks as one of the top 10 suppliers of arms worldwide.”
On May 19, the United States announced a $1.88 billion sale to Israel, using the assistance money, for bombs and tail kits for several types of precision-guided weapons. Included are 50 BLU-113, 5,000-pound bombs and special, penetrating nose cones that are designed for use on deeply buried targets, such as Iran’s Fordow underground uranium enrichment facility.
Beyond that annual $3.1 billion in foreign military sales money, the administration has been providing grant money for Israeli missile defense programs. Obama noted that the United States has provided $3 billion over the years to help develop and purchase the Israeli-manufactured Iron Dome short-range missile interceptor systems and to pay for the Arrow 4 and David Sling [Israeli] missile defense systems.
Obama also told Nadler that the United States would “accelerate the ongoing collaborative research and development for tunnel detection and mapping technologies . . . to detect and destroy tunnels before they can be used to threaten Israeli civilians.” About $40 million for this program has been added to the fiscal 2016 defense bill now before Congress.
Obama also pointed out that Israel is the only country in the Middle East that has been offered the new F-35, a fifth-generation U.S. strike fighter, the first of which is expected to be delivered next year. It’s an example of Qualitative Military Edge, or QME, a policy enacted into law by Congress in 2008 that requires U.S. presidents to carry out an “empirical and qualitative assessment on an ongoing basis of the extent to which Israel possesses a qualitative military edge over military threats to Israel.”
That same law requires that any U.S. proposed sale of arms to any other Middle East country carry a certification that the defense articles or services “will not adversely affect Israel’s qualitative military edge.”
In an example of how the United States follows that formula, on May 19 — the same day the proposed $1.88 billion Israeli sale of precision-strike weapons was announced — the Defense Department disclosed a $1.9 billion sale to Saudi Arabia of 10 MH-60R multi-mission helicopters for use against “maritime threats” and “to strengthen its homeland defense.”
“The proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region,” the announcement said.
There have been additional major sales in recent months not only to the Saudis but also other Gulf states to which Obama pledged last May at Camp David that “the United States will streamline and expedite the transfer of critical defense capabilities.”
But it is to Israel that most attention is being paid.
“No administration has done more for Israel’s security than mine,” Obama wrote to Nadler. “I am prepared to further strengthen this relationship.”
These costly steps are being taken not to gain Israeli support for the agreement. They are designed to provide a reason — or cover — for Jewish and pro-Israeli U.S. members of Congress to justify their voting against a congressional resolution of disapproval of the agreement that will be voted upon when Congress returns in September.
“The seeming effort to make the [Iran nuclear agreement] the ultimate test of Congress’s commitment to Israel is probably unprecedented in the annals of relations between two vibrant democracies,” Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, wrote in a blunt opinion piece in The Washington Post on Sunday.
Scowcroft added, “Let us be clear: There is no credible alternative were Congress to prevent U.S. participation in the nuclear deal. If we walk away, we walk away alone.”