Noah Ente: Aid to Israel cannot be conditional

Wednesday, November 20, 2019 - 11:58am

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With the Iranian regime’s announcement on Nov. 5 that they would resume their enrichment of weapons-grade uranium, it appears the Middle East is about to become even more chaotic and dangerous for enemies of the Islamic Republic. That includes the United States, but this news is an especially bad sign for Israel. Already facing great opposition on nearly all of its borders from Iranian proxies and groups receiving Tehran’s funding, it would be a crisis if the thousands of missiles possessed by these groups, or Iran itself, were suddenly enhanced with nuclear payloads. An article in The Atlantic by Michael Oren, former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., lays out the potential outcomes for the Jewish state should this reality come to fruition. 

It is clear that one of Iran’s main objectives in amassing their arsenal of weapons is to take down the country which the late Ayatollah Khomeini once called “the Little Satan.” The regime has said so itself. With Iran’s leaders formally signaling their resumption of nuclear development, it appears that the threat of annihilation from Iran that Israelis have feared could be more of a possibility.

In this context, comments made by prominent Democratic candidates for president at the national conference for the left-leaning J Street group in Washington, D.C. last month appear dangerously misguided. In their speeches, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., along with South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Julián Castro, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, all addressed —  to some degree — the possibility of their future administrations one day using the U.S.’s annual $3.8 billion military aid package as a way to curb Israeli policies with which they disagree. These remarks follow a similar statement by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and reflect a general lack of awareness of the situation Israel faces and the implications that such an action would have. 

The military aid that the U.S. has pledged to Israel over the years has been a sign of the enduring partnership between these countries: the American belief that a strong Israel only serves to make us stronger. In his speech to the J Street conference as vice ptesident in 2013, prominent 2020 candidate Joe Biden said that “If there were not an Israel, we would have to invent one to make sure our interests (in the Middle East) were preserved.” This is the sentiment that Democrats need to make clear to American Jews and the entire American public leading up to the presidential election just a year from now. The partnership of these two countries is strategic to the interests of both and cannot be put at risk over policy disagreements between a particular administration.

Cutting military aid to Israel now, in a time when Israel is facing perhaps its greatest external threats in decades, would signal a lack of commitment to the important bond between these two countries in defense, economics, innovation and science. As part of the requisites for receiving billions of dollars in military assistance, Israel and its armed forces are required to spend the entirety of the aid package on U.S. weaponry and equipment. In this way, funds that were set aside for foreign aid have been returning to the U.S. economy and boosting its military technology industry. This policy, often accused of being a unilateral gifting of taxpayer dollars to Israel, also has tangible benefits to America and its defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin and Raytheon. It is an arrangement that is beneficial to the two nations and should be continued under the future U.S. administration.

Politicians can reasonably disagree about the course of action Israel should take in its domestic and foreign policy. However, it should remain a consensus that U.S. military assistance to Israel — which boosts the American economy and strengthens one of its most important and loyal allies — remains intact for years to come. 

Israel faces growing uncertainty and danger in its future as regional adversaries continuously prepare to bring about its destruction. U.S. allies need to be able to count on America for consistent support, not only through rhetoric, but through our actions. Using the threat of ending military aid as a club to force the implementation of a desired policy is harmful to American interests, to Israel and to our important relationship. It is a mistake that any future leader should be sure to avoid.

Noah Ente can be reached at noahente@umich.edu.