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A Salient Fact About US-Israeli Relations (Several Billion, in Fact)

As I listen to and read some of the commentary about Obama’s speeches about Israel and Palestine, I have been struck by the degree to which some commentators seem to forget the following:

Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II. From 1976-2004, Israel was the largest annual recipient of U.S. foreign assistance, having since been supplanted by Iraq. Since 1985, the United States has provided nearly $3 billion in grants annually to Israel.

Source:  CRS report:  U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel [PDF]

Does the above fact give the US the right to tell Israel what to do?  No, it does not. However, it does put the relationship a bit into perspective:  this is not a situation of two co-equal powers.  This is, in many ways, a patron-client relationship (for good or ill).

Certainly, Israel receives a great deal of special treatment (also from the CRS report):

Almost all U.S. bilateral aid to Israel is in the form of military assistance. In the past, Israel also had received significant economic assistance. Strong congressional support for Israel has resulted in Israel’s receiving benefits not available to other countries. For example, Israel can use some U.S. military assistance both for research and development in the United States and for military purchases from Israeli manufacturers. In addition, all U.S. foreign assistance earmarked for Israel is delivered in the first 30 days of the fiscal year. Most other recipients normally receive aid in installments. Congress also appropriates funds for joint U.S.-Israeli missile defense programs.

Now, clearly, the US has interests in the region that are served by supporting Israel.  Still, the above cited facts do remind us of the nature of the relationship and why it might be that a President of the United States might feel free to opine about Israeli policy (not to mention the degree to which the Palestinian issues reverberates through so much of US foreign policy in the region).  Further, this relations puts Prime Minister Netanyahu’s behavior at the White House in a particular light (and it really isn’t one that reflects well on Netanyahu, to be honest).

In this vein of thought I would further recommend:

Related Posts:

About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. This is a crucial point for many reasons.

    For friends of Israel, the patron-client relationship is arguably not in Israel’s interest because of the obligations such a relationship created.

    For persons such as myself, who believe Israel has a right to act in its own interest but that American interests and Israeli interests are not necessarily congruent, becoming the patron of one side in a conflict that is perhaps irresolvable creates huge problems for American foreign policy choices

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  2. ponce says:

    This is, in many ways, a patron-client relationship

    Traditionally, client states provide troops to support their patron state’s military…adventures.

    But, because of Israel’s pariah status, it can’t provide the U.S. any military support.

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  3. Drew says:

    This essay can only be described as bizarre.

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  4. Jay Tea says:

    For example, Israel can use some U.S. military assistance both for research and development in the United States and for military purchases from Israeli manufacturers.

    I’m trying to think of another recipient of military aid that actually has a defense industry as technically advanced as Israel’s — which, in some ways, rivals our own. We’re now fighting the kind of war that they’ve fought for years and years — and they’ve been very generous with sharing what they’ve learned.

    Congress also appropriates funds for joint U.S.-Israeli missile defense programs.

    Again, because Israel is in some ways ahead of us in that field.

    Anti-missile, drone construction and operation, asymmetrical warfare, Muslim terrorist networks, alternate energy (God gave them pretty much the only plot of land without oil), medical treatment of those injured by terrorist-style weapons… there’s a ton of areas where Israel helps us out that doesn’t involve “boots on the ground.”

    Our relationship with Israel is unique because Israel is unique. What they need from us and what they give us in incomparable to any other nation on earth. And outside from the UN charter (and that’s an abortion for another discussion), there’s no real principle that “all nations are created equal.” There is no reason whatsoever we should treat Israel exactly like we treat Bolivia, or Pakistan, or Norway, or New Zealand, or South Korea, or Panama.

    Damn, I’ve been meaning to write something about Israel for about a week now… think this just might kick me into getting off my butt. Thanks.

    J.

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  5. ponce says:

    there’s a ton of areas where Israel helps us out that doesn’t involve “boots on the ground.”

    You would think that after the embarrassing arse kicking the IDF suffered in Lebanon in 2006, the myth that the Israelis are a nation of military super geniuses would be permanently deflated.

    Apparently not.

    The only thing the U.S. gets back from Israel in exchange for the $3+ billion in welfare we send it each year is some magic beans and the likelihood our most sensitive military secrets are being smuggled to the Chinese so Israel can woo its next sugar daddy.

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  6. trizzlor says:

    @Jay Tea, you make a valid counter-point, but there’s no reason for Israel not to offer this kind of cooperation if we were not providing them with grants. We are allied with plenty of developed liberal states that share military intelligence and technology with us. But as far as I can tell, Israel is the only such nation that receives such a substantial chunk of our aid.

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  7. Herb says:

    What they need from us and what they give us in incomparable to any other nation on earth.

    Emphasis on “what they need.” $3 billion for some terrorist-fighting tips? Bad deal.

    Israel is a valuable cultural ally, but they’re not our best friend in the whole wide world. They’re not even a major trading partner. You know how many troops they sent to the MNF in Iraq? Zero.

    Bulgaria sent 485. You know how much money we’ve given them? Since 1990, a total of $600 million. Incomparable?

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  8. ponce says:

    I wonder if Obama and Netanyahu cooked up this little spat to draw attention from the news that Iran’s nuclear power plant achieved critical mass this week and is now operational.

    The spat isn’t really a big deal, nothing that can’t be erased with “clarifying” statements from both sides.

    Meanwhile, the right wingers in both countries who would have been calling for an immediate air strike against Iran have spent the week nattering on about how bold Netanyahu was/ how rude Obama was instead

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  9. Jay Tea says:

    ponce, I missed that. But it’s certainly worth noting that it happened — like the killing of Bin Laden — on Obama’s watch.

    J.

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  10. Andyman says:

    “This is, in many ways, a patron-client relationship (for good or ill).”

    Can anyone name a way that it isn’t?

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  11. Southern Hoosier says:

    I could be worse, we could have a client state like Pakistan.

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  12. john personna says:

    I think you could do a better rift on “dysfunctional relationships,” the US, and Israel.

    We know it’s dysfunctional because neither party officially recognizes the primary reason we’re together. That is, a religious link.

    Now, luckily we aren’t so far gone that we (as a whole) cannot have other friends in the region – friends with “opposing” religions.

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  13. john personna says:

    Should be “riff”

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  14. Pug says:

    I think Netanyahu made a big mistake last Friday. If he wants to turn the U.S.-Israel relationship into a partisan issue, he made a great start. Not everyone in America believes we need to blindly support everything Likud wants. The religious right and the neo-cons do, but not everybody. I would advise him to be careful in what he says to AIPAC and Congress this week.

    Unfortuantely, I don’t think he will be careful. I think, like Sharon before him, he’s always been a hard line, blustering bully and that isn’t about to change. Meanwhile, the far right in both America and Israel will squeal with delight, but it will be a major blunder in the long run.

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  15. PGlenn says:

    Ditto what Jay Tea wrote above.

    In addition, we send large amounts of aid to countries that are hostile to U.S. interests and/or use the aid to undermine our interests. The aid to Israel comes out “on the other side” in the forms of hard assets (military equipment, land development, technological innovation, etc.); the aid to many other countries is turned into kleptocratic/jihadist projects (Las Vegas junkets, suicide bombers, terrorist groups, guady works of “art,” weapons they are too inept to operate correctly, etc.).

    The U.S.-Israel relationship is at times like a patron-client relationship, but that relationship applies only to that aid-development nexus: we give you military equipment, in exchange you give us your experise in anti-terrorism operations, etc. It does not entitle the “patron” to make broad, sweeping, existential demands on the “client.” In other words, a patron cannot order a client to commit suicide.

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  16. I find the notion that the aid given to Israel is some sort of R&D investment to a bit of a rationalization. The bottom line is that Israel is a geo-strategic. geo-political ally.

    Have they shared information with us over the years? I am sure they have. Are we sending that money over there for defense tips? No, no we are not.

    And:

    It does not entitle the “patron” to make broad, sweeping, existential demands on the “client.” In other words, a patron cannot order a client to commit suicide.

    This is nonsense on so many levels. No one is asking anyone to commit suicide.

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  17. PGlenn says:

    Mr. Taylor, you skewed my points.

    First, I didn’t say that the US. aid to Israel was strictly an economic development &/or R&D investment, although that is part of the picture. The point was that the aid generates “hard” assets. Yes, those assets are transferred to Israel – and we can argue about the extent to which American and Israeli strategic interests are compatible – but at least those assets are “converted” into great value on the other side. Compare to the aid sent that gets channeled into kleptocratic/jihadist projects.

    Secondly, I was suggesting that Israel has delivered a lot of “hard” value in return for the “investments” (which Obama’s favorite word for government spending). Not just intelligence sharing, anti-terrorism expertise, etc. (but heck that’s pretty nice as it is), many other positives as well; the examples I cited were merely to illustrate the point in a few paragraphs. But I’m very confident that a full acounting (cost/benefit analysis) of U.S. aid to Israel versus other countries would put Israel at on near the top of the list of net positive “investments.” Maybe I can move to Israel and we could arrange for a grant from the U.S. State Dept. to run my study?

    Lastly, I was not saying that you (or even Obama) were suggesting that the patron was asking the client to commit suicide – I was proving that the patron-client relationship has limits, a point which you’ve now conceded, apparently. Okay, then, if the patron-client relationship has limits, where do you draw the line?

    Btw, though, if Israel were to recede to the pre-67 borders, it would place the Israeli people in very serious peril. But, no, they probably wouldn’t have committed suicide, because after they came under massive assault, they’d have to kill a lot of people to restore a more defensible postion. Hmmm . . . now that wouldn’t be a very good use of our investment dollars, would it?

    Note: the idea of 67 + “swaps” does not mean pre-67 borders + Israel gets to “swap” back in everything it needs to maintain a defensible position. Swap means quid pro quo, thus Israel might negotiate specific additions, but would have to give up equal subtractions. Therefore, Obama is demanding that Israel be reduced (effectively) IN SIZE to the pre-67 borders.

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  18. PD Shaw says:

    I agree a lot with PGlenn, but I don’t think one needs make substantial claims of value here. The U.S. is a wealthy, status quo power, and it will spend a lot to avoid worse case scenarios. If you understand that motivation, you begin to understand the limits of U.S. ability to influence change, versus avoid catastrophic outcomes.

    A salient fact about client states: “Since the signing of the Oslo Accord in 1993 and the establishment of limited Palestinian selfrule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1994, the U.S. government has committed over $3.5 billion in bilateral assistance to the Palestinians.” FAS Link

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  19. MarkedMan says:

    Israel/Palestine is a mess. There is great moral wrong on both sides. Yes. On both sides. But no matter what has happened in the past, there are people born in Israel who by that fact have legitimate rights to be there, whether or not they are supporters of Israel (i.e. Jew or Palestinian). In addition, Israel has ruled over millions of other people for almost half a century, exclusively Palestinian, who have no political and very few human rights granted by their ruler. I don’t know how this mess can be improved, but by picking people like Netanyahu as their leaders, the Israelis call into question the support they are currently receiving. Just as the Palestinians who elected Hamas call into question our support. We cut those Palestinians off. We should seriously consider doing the same for Israel.

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  20. Matt says:

    You know how many troops they sent to the MNF in Iraq? Zero.

    Bulgaria sent 485. You know how much money we’ve given them? Since 1990, a total of $600 million. Incomparable?

    Hey Herb, who the heck thinks it would be a good idea to send Jewish soldiers to a theater of war anywhere (Af-Pak or Iraq) in the Muslim Middle and Near East?!?

    Geez.

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  21. cB says:

    You know how many troops they sent to the MNF in Iraq? Zero.

    almost certainly by design, kind of a moot point.

    and while i sort of agree with jay’s general sentiment, i would caution that the likudniks view the relationship far more cynically than is let on.

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  22. MarkedMan says:

    I think Herb’s point was that because of its status, Israel cannot support us with troops anywhere. It’s not a question of intent or desire, simply a fact. And that devalues Israel as an ally.

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  23. Herb says:

    Hey Herb, who the heck thinks it would be a good idea to send Jewish soldiers to a theater of war anywhere (Af-Pak or Iraq) in the Muslim Middle and Near East?!?

    Way to miss the point, Matt. This was in response to Jay Tea’s assertion that “what [Israel] give(s) us in incomparable to any other nation on earth.” It was not a request for Israeli military assistance.

    Geez.

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  24. Jay Tea says:

    Then I don’t get your point at all, Herb. Israel offers — and delivers — things of far different value than boots on the ground. Sometimes better, sometimes not. But because of their status, “boots on the ground” would be a liability in most of the places we go — they’d be inflammatory and an automatic target.

    And I tend to think of military aid to Israel much like the space program — some dismiss it as “money we shoot off into space.” Not true at all. It’s money that we spend, here, on the ground, in the US, to build very complicated machinery — and it’s the machinery that we send off into space. The money stays here.

    Just like when Israel uses our foreign aid to buy military hardware. They get the goods, we get the money back. And since I don’t think we exactly list military hardware as “assets” on the federal balance sheet (they have limited resale value and opportunities — who would buy a modern aircraft carrier? No one else has the infrastructure to support and operate it!), it’s a net gain to the economy.

    J.

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  25. Patrick Glenn says:

    Herb, you make a valid, excellent point, but 1). Your point only goes so far; 2). It illustrates what we’re really dealing with in the ME.

    1). Israel makes major contributions to American security (and economic, cultural, etc.) interests even w/out being able to send complementary forces to war zones in the ME. With all due respect to Bulgaria et al, these contributions are important and definitely appreciated, but they mostly bring SYMBOLIC value not much actual military value (sometimes, they just kind of get in the way, to be truthful).

    2). That it would be counterproductive to insert some of Israel’s highly capable forces into ME “hot spots” (in which American coalitional forces are often attempting to end genocide, etc.) also underlines the irrational, frothing Jew hatred prevalent in the ME (not to mention at the UN in general). The need to be prudent about Israel’s “footprint” is a symptom (not a cause) of a disease that will continue to threaten our interests regardless of whether we stand firmly by our ally; indeed, if we fail to stand firm, that would embolden our enemies.

    In spite of the above limitations on Israeli contributions to our security efforts, I’d still argue that Israel gives us much more bang-for-our-buck than most recipients of American foreign aid.

    Btw, your astute comment helped direct us back to the real point of contention here, which concerns our (westerners) differing views toward Arab/Palestinian intentions toward Israel/Jews, cultural tendencies in the ME, the dominant & underlying nature of the “Arab Spring,” etc.: Obama, Susan Rice, Mitchell, J-Streeters, et al, see Arab/Palestinian interests through a certain prism (as being mostly benign), which IMO is dangerously naiive. In turn, they see my position is dangerously naiive in the other direction.

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  26. Herb says:

    “Israel offers — and delivers — things of far different value than boots on the ground.”

    Fair enough. Other countries do that too and they provide boots on the ground. Chances are that country will be one of our major trading partners too. Should we send them $3 billion annual grants for being our buds, too?

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  27. […] A Salient Fact About US-Israeli Relations (Several Billion, in Fact) (outsidethebeltway.com) […]

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  28. Patrick Glenn says:

    Herb, what other top recipients of U.S. foreign aid provide better total/net assets in return than does Israel? Iraq, Egypt, Colombia, Jordan, Pakistan, Peru, Indonesia, Kenya, Russia, Gaza/West Bank?

    Maybe your point is that the U.S. should not send any foreign aid at all (or at least reduce the amounts)? I suspect the better examples you are envisioning are not major recipients of U.S. foreign aid, like Australia, UK, etc., but those wealthy, secure allies are not “at risk” countries.

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  29. PD Shaw says:

    FY 2009:

    Israel: $2.88 billion in U.S. aid
    Population: 7.473 million
    GDP (PP): $717.1 billion
    U.S. aid per capita: $385
    U.S. aid as percentage of GDP: 0.04%

    Palestine: $960 million in U.S. aid
    Population: 4.222 million
    GDP (PP): $12.79 billion*
    U.S. aid per capita: $227
    U.S. aid as percentage of GDP: 7.5%

    (Data from FAS and CIA World Factbook. *Note: CIA World Factbook separates Gaza from West bank, except for GDP, for which it references the West Bank. I don’t know if the West Bank GDP ($12.79) includes Gaza, or if Gaza’s GDP is negligible or unknowable)

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  30. ponce says:

    But it’s certainly worth noting that it happened — like the killing of Bin Laden — on Obama’s watch.

    There’s no denying that, Jay.

    But Iran firing up its nuclear reactor is a much bigger problem for Netanyahu than it is for Obama.

    But, with this spat, they’re both past the event without the press (and the pundits) really making an issue of it.

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  31. PD Shaw says:

    Mathematical Error:

    Israel:

    U.S. aid as percentage of GDP: 0.04% 0.4%

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  32. ponce says:

    U.S. aid as percentage of GDP: 0.04% 0.4%

    America’s aid to Israel comes to about $1300 per Israeli household per year.

    That’s a very nice bonus from the hand they’re so viciously biting.

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  33. steve says:

    “But I’m very confident that a full acounting (cost/benefit analysis) of U.S. aid to Israel versus other countries would put Israel at on near the top of the list of net positive “investments.”

    I am not. We already spend more on military research and hardware than anyone else. I cant think of anything we really need from Israel. They provide us limited intelligence. We are probably getting better from Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and, yes, Pakistan. We know that Israel is not going to deploy anywhere with us. I actually value that a lot. When a country is willing to risk the lives of its citizens, you know that they are making a commitment. Israel would be doing weapons research even if Russia was its patron.

    All that said, I would be interested in seeing a full assessment by a credible defense analyst on what assets we gain from Israel. From my POV, they are a pretty crappy ally, incurring costs with few benefits.

    Query- What country besides the US remains as a staunch Israeli ally? If they have much to offer, why are they not courted by others?

    Steve

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  34. Robert C. says:

    Israel is a client state, it is that simple. The whole world knows this. The whole world knows that Israel could not expand and protect the seetlements without US aid. Without US aid, Israelis would have to make hard choices, such as universal health care or more settlements. The whole world (sans the US) views the settlements (correctly) as illegal. The whole world sees Israeli leader after Israeli leader thum their noses at kow-towing US Presidents. This loss of credibiltiy, and the justifiable animosty directed towrd the US for our complicity in the settler movemnt dramtically erodes our abilty to us soft power in foreirgn relations. This is not worth 3 billion in R & D.

    Robert C.

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  35. Herb says:

    Maybe your point is that the U.S. should not send any foreign aid at all

    No, my point was in context of Jay’s “incomparable” statement. I compared…that’s all.

    Israel is a valuable ally, true, but we need not trick ourselves into thinking they’re the MVP of allies.

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  36. Patrick Glenn says:

    Steve at 13:32 above (same as Steven L. Taylor?): I’d welcome that wager, i.e., a comparison of the top 10 recipients of U.S. foreign aid on a cost/benefit basis.

    Also, Israel is surrounded by hostile states, which have refused to trade with her throughout Israel’s existence. Nevertheless, Israel’s economy is graded as a top-20 in the world economy (e.g., IMD “world competitiveness”) and does quite well with exports. Israel is a top exporter of high tech, telecom, and military equipment. In other words, their goods & services are “courted” by other countries in spite of the longstanding regional (and more recently global) efforts to weaken or destroy Israel.

    Robert C.: You don’t “know” what Israel is capable of doing without U.S. aid. Israel won multiple major wars in the past with very limited U.S. support, while her enemies received major support from other patron states (e.g., USSR). If Israel was forced into a major regional conflict this year, and none of the major powers interceded on behalf of either side, Israel would make quick work of her enemies.

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  37. Robert C. says:

    Patrick Glenn: Israel was caught flatfooted in 1973 and likely would have lost had the US not intervened.

    Further I think you over-estimate Israel’s current military power. Clearly, with their air superiority and nuclear weapons, they could win any regional war against several foes combined. Duh. But, 2006 showed a vulnerability to asymmetric warfare and battling a war of attrition.

    Further, I stand by my comment: the US$ 3billion a year allows the average Israeli to avoid difficult choices such as universal health coverage verse more settlements. Because of the US aid, they get guns and butter.

    Robert C.

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  38. Patrick Glenn says:

    Robert C.: the Israeli’s were only “vulnerable to assymetric warfare” in 2006 insomuch as they were on the offensive against positions protected by the use of women & children as human shields.

    And, yes, you had to begin at 1973 to find an example of when Israel significantly benefited from U.S. military support during a major war. I’d expect the same now. Given Israeli’s current borders, if everything broke wrong for them, they could conceivable lose a regional war that involves full-scale rules-of-engagement, but I’d take my chances with them all day long.

    Squeeze them back to the 67 lines, and Israel would be substantially more vulnerable, and massive bloodshed would be much more likely, on both sides.

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  39. Ben Wolf says:

    @Patrick,

    Your lauding of Israel’s unmatched military power makes clear that it no longer needs our assistance.

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  40. ponce says:

    And, yes, you had to begin at 1973 to find an example of when Israel significantly benefited from U.S. military support during a major war.

    Ehud Olmert was begging America for help a few days into the 2006 war against Lebanon.

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  41. steve says:

    ” Nevertheless, Israel’s economy is graded as a top-20 in the world economy (e.g., IMD “world competitiveness”) and does quite well with exports. Israel is a top exporter of high tech, telecom, and military equipment. In other words, their goods & services are “courted” by other countries in spite of the longstanding regional (and more recently global) efforts to weaken or destroy Israel.”

    They export $30 billion worth of goods a year. We send them $3 billion a year. They export a lot of arms, including to Russia. Still, while they are economically successful, hell, we buy oil from Arabs, no one else is allying with them on political and territorial issues like we do.

    Steve

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  42. PD Shaw says:

    Further, I stand by my comment: the US$ 3billion a year allows the average Israeli to avoid difficult choices such as universal health coverage verse more settlements. Because of the US aid, they get guns and butter.

    U.S. aid used to constitute 10% of Israel’s GDP. I think the main arguments for Israel gaining advantage through U.S. aid is historic, not current. Current aid is not significant in light of Israel’s GDP; the real threat to Israel is security and demographic, demographic as in the willingness of Jews to live in a near perpetual state of war when there are other less anti-semetic-than-they-used-to-be places to live.

    Israel does not receive money from the U.S. to do with what it wants, it receives restricted money to purchas military weapons. If there was a cut back, it would either reduce weapons purchases, raise taxes, or explore other security measures that were less attractive in light of U.S. aid.

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  43. PD Shaw says:

    I don’t believe it’s anywhere near established that Israel is a client state. Clients know they are clients and are dependent, something Israel has always refused (no doubt knowing the U.S. won’t threaten it’s oil supply).

    In democracies, the leaders are dependent upon their voters and know that it’s all a matter of time before they are forced to leave. I doubt any democratic country is a client state for that reason, but I suppose if you define it the right way, France and Britain are clients of the U.S. as per Libya policy.

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  44. Robert C. says:

    “Israel does not receive money from the U.S. to do with what it wants, it receives restricted money to purchas military weapons. If there was a cut back, it would either reduce weapons purchases, raise taxes, or explore other security measures that were less attractive in light of U.S. aid.”…..PD Shaw.

    “U.S. aid used to constitute 10% of Israel’s GDP. “…PD shaw.

    Don’t be naive. The money is fungible. It always is. The aid allows guns and butter. Period.

    10% is not significicant? If every household in Israel were forced to take an immediate 10% reduction in income, heads would role. If forced to take this 10% cut, people wpould rethink their priorities. Perhaps a few more Israelis would argue for entitlements and against settlements.

    Robert C.

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  45. PD Shaw says:

    Read for comprehension: U.S. aid used to be around 10% of GDP, which I indicated was significant; these days it’s .4% of GDP.

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  46. cas says:

    A recent article outlining the importance of investments in ISrael.
    “Silicon Israel” – http://www.city-journal.org/2009/19_3_jewish-capitalism.html

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