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SECURING AMERICA, STRENGTHENING ISRAEL

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JINSA Conference Call with Senator Lindsey Graham Featured in The New York Times

The Contest Over Israel Aid
By Editorial Board, The New York Times

Even before the ink was dry on the new 10-year, $38 billion defense agreement between Israel and the United States, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina threw down the gauntlet and promised to fight the Obama administration over key elements of the deal, including its size. Mr. Graham wants Congress to approve billions more.

As the powerful chairman of a subcommittee that oversees foreign aid, Mr. Graham is in a position to throw his weight around. His reaction is a measure of how politics complicates policy toward America’s closest Middle East ally and how difficult it is to have a straightforward debate about aid levels. In March, Donald Trump raised the fanciful notion that he would require Israel to repay the United States for the aid it received. He quickly backtracked, and the idea, which would have infuriated many American voters, seems to have died.

For decades, Israel has been the leading recipient of American aid, far surpassing other countries. Under the current agreement, which expires 2018, Israel was promised $30 billion to buy advanced weaponry between 2007 and 2017, and millions more were tacked on annually at Congress’s discretion for the “Iron Dome” missile defense system that helped prevent Israeli casualties during the 2014 conflict in Gaza. The new deal, signed on Wednesday, provides $3.3 billion annually for weapons, including F-35 fighter jets, with a guarantee of $500 million more every year for missile defense.

President Obama promised additional aid and called the deal the “largest single pledge of military assistance in U.S. history,” in part to assuage Israeli concerns over the Iran nuclear deal. But some Israelis have complained that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could have won even more assistance if he had not alienated Mr. Obama by siding with Republicans in the losing effort to kill the nuclear agreement. Mr. Netanyahu had initially sought $45 billion.

For many years, substantial assistance was warranted in recognition of Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt and its need to defend against hostile Arab states. There is a compelling need for the United States’ continued commitment to Israel’s security, which includes the sharing of advanced technologies. But it is worth asking whether the ever-increasing aid levels make sense, especially in the face of America’s other pressing domestic and overseas obligations.

Mr. Graham, in a conference call on Friday arranged by Jinsa, a pro-Israel group, argued that Israel needed even more aid to help protect itself from Iran and its proxy groups, Hamas and Hezbollah. But Israel has by far the most advanced military in the region and has developed cooperative ties with many Sunni Arab states. Writing in The Washington Post this week, Ehud Barak, a former Israeli prime minister, boasted that the country is “powerful scientifically, economically and militarily” and ruled out Iran as an existential threat.

The agreement has some important new features, including a plan to phase out a provision allowing 26 percent of the funding to be spent on research and development in Israel rather than on purchases of American weaponry. Other aid recipients must buy American-made products. The exception made sense when Israel was building its military industry, but it is now a leading arms exporter. The administration wants to funnel more money into America’s military industry, which has been hurt by budget cuts.

One odd feature of the deal involves Mr. Netanyahu’s written promise that Israel would not lobby Congress for money above the agreed upon amount and that it would give back any extra money that Congress might provide. American officials say Mr. Netanyahu voluntarily made this commitment to ensure that Israel had a predictable aid stream.

There are few ways to enforce Mr. Netanyahu’s promise, however. Mr. Graham contends that this provision infringes on Congress’s constitutional role in controlling the purse strings, an arguable proposition. “I’m going to put on the table more aid to Israel,” he said, and he is betting that many other lawmakers will follow along. But in truth, the aid package is already too big.

Read in The New York Times

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