There are a lot of expressions about standing up to bullies being the best policy. Unfortunately the White House has difficulty in following that sound advice when it comes to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his governing coalition of racists and thugs. And one might also add that the reticence also applies to dealing with Israel’s many friends in Congress, some of whom have apparently extorted their pound of flesh in exchange for their votes on the Iran deal.
Israel is already the military colossus in the Middle East, with formidable high tech ground, sea and air forces backed up by a semi-secret nuclear arsenal with modern delivery systems and several defensive missile system referred to as Iron Dome, Arrow 4 and David Sling. The defense systems were developed and deployed using $3 billion of U.S. Treasury special “grants” while roughly 20% of Israel’s annual total defense budget comes directly from the American taxpayer. This is all justified on the basis of sustaining Israel’s “Qualitative Military Edge,” an expression that has its own acronym QME and that is much loved by America’s national legislators, the White House and the media. In reality, Israel possesses an enormous military superiority relative to all its neighbors combined and has benefited from that capability for many years, all thanks to the United States of America.
But for some, too much is never enough. President Barack Obama is struggling to line up sufficient Democratic votes to block any congressional veto of his Iran agreement. At this point it looks like he will succeed, but the effort has brought with it the type of backstage politicking that most Americans have come to despise. Both Netanyahu and select Congressmen are being treated to a package of bribes for Israel that defies all reason, particularly given the fact that even the Israeli defense and intelligence establishments have split with Bibi’s government and sensibly declared the agreement with Iran to be better than any alternative. So even though defanging Iran is good for Israel, Washington nevertheless feels compelled to sweeten the pot, with actual American interests as usual ignored or not even considered.
How it all works has been revealed by Walter Pincus of the Washington Post, who apparently has seen a copy of a personal letter from President Obama that was sent to Democratic Congressman Jerrold Nadler, a representative from New York who was hesitating over how to cast his vote regarding Iran. Nadler’s district is reported to be heavily Jewish and the congressman, himself Jewish, has long been an outspoken advocate for Israel. The letter he received may have been similar or even identical to letters presumably sent to other Congressmen who have also been sitting on the fence over the Iran deal.
Obama, to give him his due, cleverly focuses on “our enhanced support for Israel” as the way to get to Nadler’s vote, thereby enabling the Congressman to cite what Israel will be getting out of it as he explains to his angry constituents why he is defying the call by Netanyahu to vote down the deal.
President Obama, boasting in the letter that “no administration has done for Israel’s security than mine,” adds that he is “prepared to further strengthen the relationship.” Indeed he does. He commits the United States to extend the U.S. commitment to provide Israel with $3.5 billion per year for purchasing military equipment for an additional decade after the current George W. Bush era program expires in 2018. The letter notes a “unique element” in the purchase agreement which allows Tel Aviv to spend up to 26.3% of the money on Israeli manufactured equipment.
Beyond the $3 billion plus per annum, Obama also pledged to continue extra funding for “collaborative research and development for tunnel detection and mapping technologies,” a program that only benefits Israel. Israel will also be the only country in the Middle East to receive the new advanced F-35 fighter when it finally become operational next year, all paid for by the American taxpayer.
Apart from the fact that the United States is inexplicably giving billions to an Israel that has a thriving economy with Western European levels of income, there are a number of problems with this Obama deal and the nature of the “special relationship” that it represents. For Washington, Israel is the squeaking wheel that is constantly requiring applications of grease to keep quiet. The grease is liberally applied, but the wheel keeps squeaking, the noise generally emanating from the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been directly interfering in U.S. politics since 2012.
One problem is that the United States is allowing Israel to use the money to be armed and equipped in a fashion which is directly contrary to American interests. A May offering of $1.88 billion in new equipment to Israel included 50 BLU-113 5,000 pound bombs with special penetrating nose cones that can be used against underground targets. Those targets would include Iran’s nuclear facilities, most notably its Fodrow underground uranium enrichment plant. Israel’s friends have also been agitating for the much larger 30,000 pound version of the bomb together with the heavy bombers needed to drop it on target. If past history is anything to go by it is merely a matter of time before they are granted their wish.
Bombing Iran is not exactly a U.S. interest at the moment – quite the contrary. Is it far-fetched to imagine Netanyahu staging such an attack to upset the apple cart and destroy any chance of Iranian rapprochement with Washington? A month ago I would have said no, but last week former Israeli Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak revealed that both he and Netanyahu did indeed want to bomb Iran in 2010-2012 but backed down because of technical issues and also due to the refusal of key cabinet members and military officers to support the decision.
A second problem is the authorization for Israel to spend American taxpayer money on equipment produced locally. Israel is a major weapons supplier worldwide, sometimes both selling and providing training to regimes that many consider unsavory. Its own military industrial complex was built up using the largesse coming from the United States and it now competes with American companies. It also has a well-established record of stealing United States developed military technology and then re-exporting it under its own label, a win-win for Israel but a lose-lose for American companies.
While I am far from a fan of America’s military industrial congressional complex, using American tax dollars to subsidize a foreign competitor is the height of insanity. It will cut into exports and cost American jobs. Combining that reality with the fact that no amount of bribery will make Netanyahu shut up and that Israel will likely use some of the gifted weapons in ways that will cause difficulties for Washington the constant introduction of more money and more arms for Israel is just not a good idea. Kudos to Obama for having proceeded as far as he has with the Iran agreement but if a Congressman from New York cannot for once perceive that a deal is good for America he should resign his seat and go home. Constantly playing the Israel card has not been good for politics in the United States and it has also not been good for Israel itself as well as for the Middle East region. It is time to cut the tie that binds.