Numerous American leaders over the decades have expressed their
perception that Israel and the USA have a “special relationship,”
that Israel’s enemies are America’s enemies, and that American aid to
Israel is money well spent. Most recently, these sentiments were
articulated by House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, Senator Harry
Reid, Vice President Joe Biden, and President Barack Obama. They
continue to be in favor of the continued American financial support for
Israel, amounting to about $3,000,000,000 per year in recent years.
Yet critics of Israel complain that the USA gives too much money to
Israel and that the “special relationship” is a liability for the United States. These critics support their assessments with wildly exaggerated
claims regarding the magnitude of American aid to Israel, with accusations that
Israel is bankrupting the USA, and with the warning that US money
encourages Israeli obduracy, stokes the Israel-Arab conflict, and
generates anti-American sentiment in Muslim countries. In short, they
blame Israel for America’s difficulties abroad.
While it is undeniable that the enemies of both the USA and Israel
exploit American support for Israel to foment anti-American sentiment,
it is a grave strategic error to place credence in such anti-Israel
propaganda. Yet that is what the critics do, with the apparent intent
to undermine the “special relationship.”
Since US support is of vital importance to Israel’s security, an examination of these critics’ claims seems worthwhile. A vital question is: Why is there an Israel-USA “special relationship,” an alliance
which includes generous American aid and political support at the UN and
other international venues?
At the most obvious level, Israel is the only democracy in the Middle
East. Democracies are an endangered species, so they can be expected to
support one another and to have mutually beneficial relationships
stronger than those between democracies and totalitarian states.
The U.S.–Israel “special relationship” grows in part from the
resonance of a common Bible and a host of Judeo-Christian features. As Western democracies, Israel and the USA have shared strategic interests,
shared civic and political values, and the personal, cultural, and
political bonds that exist naturally between free peoples. The supreme
commander of NATO operations in Europe and head of the U.S. European
Command (EUCOM), General John Craddock, speaking before the U.S. House
Armed Services Committee in 2007, called Israel a “model state” and
America’s closest ally in the Middle East. He noted that Israel
consistently and directly supports U.S. interests and U.S. policy in the
In fact, Israel is among the few countries in the world, and the only
Middle Eastern state, to consistently stand alongside the United
States on strategic issues in the UN and in other venues for
international cooperation. Israel votes with the USA in the Unite Nations about 94%
of the time. No other nation holds that record.
But amicable support alone cannot justify tens of billions of
taxpayer dollars in US aid to Israel. Happily, the USA has two very
strong reasons to conclude that money to Israel is an investment for
which the American people get a truly excellent return.
First, there is a financial reciprocity in this “special
relationship” quite unlike any other that the USA has. Much, and in many
years most, of the money that the USA gives Israel has been used by
Israel to purchase goods and services, both military and civilian, from
the USA, so that American aid money is recycled back into the American
economy. Nearly 90% of US aid to Israel is military, and Israel spends
about 75% of that buying U.S. goods. This aid has been described as an
indirect American subsidy to U.S. arms manufacturers.
But there is more to this issue than merely Israel’s
using American money to help the US economy. Israel is a very powerful
military ally as well. The security cooperation between Israel and the
United States is vast, and Israel has consistently been a major security
asset to the United States, an asset upon which America can rely, far
more so than have been other state recipients of American largesse.
In the field of military intelligence Israel is arguably the world’s
leading expert in collecting information on terrorist groups and in
counter-terrorism. It provides intelligence and know-how to the U.S.
According to Major General George J. Keegan Jr., former head of U.S. Air
Force intelligence, America’s military defense capability “owes more to
the Israeli intelligence input than it does to any single source of
intelligence,” the worth of which input, he estimated, exceeds “five
CIAs.” He further stated that between 1974 and 1990, Israel received
$18.3 billion in U.S. military grants. During the same period Israel
provided the U.S. with $50 billion to $80 billion in intelligence, research and
development savings, and Soviet weapons systems captured and
transferred to the U.S.
Israeli and American intelligence agencies continuously exchange
information, analyses, and operational experience in counterterrorism
and counter-proliferation. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and
its Israeli counterpart share technical know-how in defending against
terrorist attacks, countering unconventional weapons and cyber-threats,
and combating the drug trade. On the battlefield, Israeli armaments
protect Bradley and Stryker units from rocket-propelled grenades, while
Israeli-made drones and reconnaissance devices allow for safe
surveillance of hostile territory. U.S. fighter aircraft and helicopters
incorporate Israeli concepts and components, as do modern-class U.S.
warships. The IDF has furnished U.S. forces with its expertise in the
detection and neutralization of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the
largest cause of American casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Former Supreme Commander of NATO and U.S. Secretary of State General
Alexander Haig (deceased) described Israel as “the largest US aircraft
carrier, which does not require even one US soldier, cannot be sunk, is
the most cost-effective and battle-tested, located in a region which is
critical to vital US interests. If there would not be an Israel, the US
would have to deploy real aircraft carriers, along with tens of
thousands of US soldiers, which would cost tens of billions of dollars
annually, dragging the US unnecessarily into local, regional and global
In short, support for Israel has been a very profitable investment
for the USA. Israel is an ideal ally for America in the Middle East.
Haifa is one of the safest and most hospitable ports for the 6th Fleet, a
dependable base for pre-positioning emergency military stores for
deployment in neighboring countries, and a base for close-by
sophisticated medical services. In contrast, the problems the United
States faces in the Persian Gulf today stem from the fact that it does
not have an Israel equivalent there. Absent a strong, loyal, and
dependable ally in the region, the United States has had to deploy,
redeploy, and redeploy again, at a cost that easily exceeds a trillion
dollars. Repeated U.S. administrations came to power predisposed to
associate with the Arab world and to disassociate from Israel; but in
the end, most came to acknowledge the worth of Israel as a steadfast
ally in a volatile region. From Lyndon Johnson on, most have come to
see that US support for Israel has been the most cost-effective national
security investment for America since World War II and the Marshall
In sum, Israel’s enemies are America’s enemies. Israel fights the
same Islamo-fascist terrorism that brought down our World Trade Center,
blew up a large chunk of the Pentagon, killed more than 3,000 innocent
American civilians, and cost our economy as yet unascertained billions
of dollars. Israeli-American strategic cooperation is not a given, it
is not automatic, it is not a knee-jerk reaction to shared values, and
it is not a panacea; but without it the world would be a much more
dangerous place. Israel helps keep America safe.
At $3 billion per year, it is a remarkable bargain.
 Click here
for a detailed history of the development of the “special
 For these and others, see here.
 The most infamous of late being Walt and Mearsheimer (click here
for a very thorough rebuttal); Thomas Stauffer in The Christian
Science Monitor (see
here for a very
thorough rebuttal); Stephen Zunes in The Jerusalem Fund;
Scott McConnel (“The Special Relationship with Israel: Is it worth the
Cost?”; and a variety of articles in The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs condemning Israel and
urging the USA to end its support for Israel -- especially
the August 2008 edition.
 For a detailed analysis of the history of American aid to Israel,
its substantial increase after 1970, and the role of our government’s
hard-headed, logical, and fact-based analysis of the strategic value of
the “special relationship” in the realms of military intelligence,
ordnance and operations, see A. F. K. Organsi, “The $36 Billion Bargain:
Strategy and Politics in U.S. Assistance to Israel,” New York, Columbia
University Press, 1990. And for a review, click here.
 For a detailed analysis of decades of Israeli intelligence
support to the USA, see Wolf Blitzer, “Between Washington and
Jerusalem,” New York, Oxford University Press, 1986, and the New York
Times review for a summary. For
one example among many: In August 1966, the Mossad recruited an Iraqi
pilot who defected and flew a Soviet MiG 21 to Israel. Israel shared
this intelligence coup with the U.S. Israel furnished many whole Soviet
weapons systems, like 122-mm and 130-mm artillery and a T-72 tank, to
the U.S. For a detailed list of such coups, see here.
 Secretary of State Hague was not exaggerating. According to one professional assessment from July 1986:
“Washington has shown interest in Israeli help in possible air and
sea battles with Soviet forces in the eastern Mediterranean. The growing
strength of the Soviet Navy and declining political reliability of
Premier Andreas Papandreou’s anti-American regime in Greece has
increased the importance of Israeli cooperation in this vital area…. The
Israeli Air Force has had extensive combat experience over the
Mediterranean and could play a dominant role in the area south of Turkey
and east of Crete. A U.S. Navy study [DML: not available to the
public] reportedly has concluded that Israel’s Air Force alone could
destroy the entire Soviet Fleet in the eastern Mediterranean. By one
estimate, Israel could launch 20 times as many air attack sorties as an
aircraft carrier air wing or 12 times as many air combat sorties. Even
if only 10 percent of the Israeli Air Force were committed to sea
control missions, Israel could project more air power than could a U.S.
carrier in the eastern Mediterranean (author’s emphasis). …. The small
Israeli Navy, meanwhile, is a modern force comprised of fast missile
boats that pack considerable punch. .… Even if Israel sits out a
military conflict with the Soviet Union, Jerusalem could make a major
difference in the outcome by permitting U.S. warplanes to use Israeli
Israel’s military capacity has only grown since then. For a broad
over-view of Israel’s strategic value to the USA, click here.
This piece is adapted from: "U.S. Aid to Israel: Why It’s a Must," by David Meir-Levi (October 5, 2011).