As General Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, was testifying to Congress recently about the value of the U.S relationship with Israel, some lawmakers renewed a push to damage that relationship.
Noting that “we work very closely with [Israel] every day,” McKenzie told lawmakers that “one of the things for supporting our friends in the region is to give them the best capability that we can afford to give them…such as reassurance of Israel.” Just a week earlier, however, Rep. Betty McCollum had introduced a bill in the House to condition U.S. aid to Israel while Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) delivered a speech with similar recommendations.
Though the proposal to condition U.S. aid to Israel is becoming less unusual, it is flawed foreign policy, as The Jewish Institute for National Security of America outlined in a report last December. It would deprive the United States of perhaps its most capable and committed partner. It would endanger Israel, and it would do nothing to improve, as supporters claim they want, the lives of Palestinians.
Putting into law the concept that foreign aid to Israel should be used as a club to compel the Jewish state to conform to U.S. demands undermines not only Israel’s security but also the value of the U.S.-Israel security relationship.
It would be one thing for a President to unofficially lean on an Israeli prime minister with implied reciprocal concessions. It is quite another thing, however, for Congress to attempt to institutionalize such provisions. Doing so would fundamentally alter—indeed, ultimately diminish altogether—the value of our diplomatic and strategic relationship.
Following the 1973 Yom Kippur War, American strategists realized a stronger Israel was the best deterrent against large-scale regional conflicts. Now, as the United States seeks to reduce its footprint in the region, supporting Israel is one means towards ensuring regional stability without sending additional U.S. troops abroad. Israel has spearheaded efforts to restrain an increasingly aggressive Iran, deterring Tehran’s proxies on numerous fronts. It should be assisted in these efforts, not reprimanded.
The U.S. assistance Israel receives under the 10-Year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is used to defend itself and defeat these shared threats. Attempts to reduce this assistance by placing conditions on it, particularly conditions based on an inaccurate understanding of the situation in the Palestinian territories, would endanger U.S. strategic interests and allow the Middle East to grow even more unstable leading to potentially more violence inside Israel.
No part of Israel’s MOU funding affects the Palestinians or their claims, nor would reducing funding under the MOU genuinely help the Palestinians. In fact, there is the possibility that a cut in funding would increase the likelihood of both Israeli and Palestinian casualties.
The Iron Dome defense system funded in part by the United States protects both Israel proper and the West Bank, where millions of Palestinians reside, from terrorist rockets and missiles. Less security assistance would mean less funding for such vital defenses. Without protection against a grave missile threat from Hamas, there would be more Israeli civilian casualties, which could lead to more Israeli military operations inside the Gaza Strip. The result would be more deaths, more tension, and a greater risk of military confrontation between Israel and Hamas.
Security assistance also enables Israel to take risks when pursuing peace with its neighbors, in that it knows that, should a given dynamic with a partner go awry, it has a credible commitment that the United States will support Israel’s right to self-defense. For instance, Israel was in a good position to conclude a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979, in part because it received a series of assurances from the United States that the United States would come to Israel’s aid, should Egypt exploit Israel’s cautious openness and violate the treaty.
Likewise, a similar signal of support for Israel must be maintained in the case of the Palestinians, to whom the Israelis have demonstrated their continued interest in long-term peace. Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 is a prime example of an instance in which Israel took a tremendous risk in the name of peace and was forced to act in self-defense after Palestinian leadership exploited Israel’s conciliatory behavior.
U.S. assistance to Israel enables peace and security, both in the Middle East and for America. As General McKenzie advised Congress, supporting our Israeli partners, “the best capabilities we can afford to give them” remains to our clear advantage. Jeopardizing our friendship by putting conditions on U.S. aid serves no real purpose.
Retired Marine Lt. Gen. Richard Natonski served as head of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Command and is a member of The Jewish Institute for National Security of America’s (JINSA) Board of Advisors and Hybrid Warfare Policy Project. Erielle Davidson is a JINSA Senior Policy Analyst.
Originally published in RealClearDefense