Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of United States foreign assistance since World War II. And this week it received the largest US military aid package ever signed between two countries. This begs the question: why does Israel, whose per capita income is among the world’s top 20, receive tens of billions of dollars in military support each decade?
The official justifications and reactions by the pundits have come mostly in ready phrases and cliches constricted to the ideological confines of the US-Israel “special relationship”. The deal is a “win-win” for both the US and Israel.
It benefits both countries: it’s a “compromise” between what Israel asked for, $45bn, and what it settled for in the previous decade $30bn-plus; and it is indispensable for “Israel’s security” in a “dangerous neighbourhood”.
We are also told that the US and Israeli governments have put their differences aside to underline the historic and global US strategic commitment to Israel. And if you had any doubts, the two parties underlined their commitments to the peace process.
But the historic record tells an entirely different story; how those benevolent claims on security, peace, compromise and friendship are false, if not hypocritical and intentionally misleading.
The first fallacy contends that the deal is a win-win for Israel and the United States. This is rich coming from the pro-Israel lobby that ensured the transfer of hundreds of billions of dollars to Israel both in government and tax-exempt donations.
Let’s not talk about how Israel buying US arms with US money is beneficial to Americans; that’s just a silly repetition of the White House talking points. Rather, how at the height of the Cold War, Israel might have “earned” the military and economic subsidies as an active client of the United States against the Soviet Union and its allies in the Middle East and beyond.
Since the end of the Cold War, Israel has been of no tangible strategic benefit to Washington.
After all, it fought and won wars, and it occupied Arab lands three times its size, forcing Arab autocrats to plead for Washington’s protection, help and mediation.
But since the end of the Cold War, Israel has been of no tangible strategic benefit to Washington. Once a strategic asset, it has now become a burden, even a nuisance.
In fact, the United States kept Israel out of each and every regional coalition it built in the context of its “war on terror”, or at arm’s length from any war it fought, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya or elsewhere. So much so that Israeli leaders accused the Bushes, both father and son, of abandoning Israel following the 1991 Gulf War, the 9/11 attacks and the second Gulf War.
Second, comes the claim that almost $40bn in military assistance is needed to preserve Israel’s security. This is lame at best. Israel has been using US military assistance to preserve and defend its occupation, not its security. If it withdrew from the lands it occupied for decades, these threats, real or imagined, would have been diminished substantially. Remember, Hamas and Hezbollah are the result – not the triggers – of Israeli occupation of Palestine and Lebanon.
Paradoxically, after Israel signed separate peace agreements with Jordan after Egypt – its chief Arab rival – the US provided Israel with more, not less military assistance. Israel’s latest justification being the Islamic Republic.
Iran nuclear deal
But Iran was totally drained by its 1980s war against Iraq, and by US dual containment in the 1990s. And as of this year, the Iran nuclear deal has put Iran’s nuclear programme to rest, at least for decades.
If the Obama administration is totally convinced that the deal serves and protects Israel, which happens to be a closet nuclear power, why then augment the military assistance?
The same goes for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) which, like Iran, has never actually attacked Israel, and is being attacked mercilessly by a dozen countries, including the US and Russia.
Third comes the fallacy that peace comes with strength. You may or may not have seen the memo, but the US and Israel are committed to peace, or more accurately, the Peace Process which was devised by the US to bring peace to the “holy land” a quarter of a century ago, but never did.
At any rate, the US and Israel have long justified the need to arm Israel, and even render it militarily superior to all its neighbours combined, so that it can make certain “compromises” and “concessions” to its neighbours for the sake of peace.
But the record shows that the more Washington militarised and empowered Israel against its Arab neighbours, the less prone it has been to making compromises.
Indeed, one can see a perfect correlation between US military support and Israeli extremism. And some, like General David Petraeus, saw Israeli intransigence fomenting anti-American sentiments that undermine the US in the region.
The fourth fallacy revolves around the idea of the unshakable friendship. Really, what’s a little money between friends? We’ve established that it’s not little – Israel received more US assistance during the Cold War, $62.5bn (1949-1996) than Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean combined, $62.4bn.
But what about the friends bit? Setting aside for a moment the fact that states have interests not friends, what is this friendship they’re talking about? Especially, when at no time has a presumed ally ever publicly humiliated US officials in their own country and internationally, as Israeli leaders have done.
Indeed, Benjamin Netanyahu is the embodiment of the phrase “with friends like these who needs enemies”. He has meddled in the US elections and practically campaigned against President Barack Obama in 2012. Netanyahu and co have not only disagreed but also fought the Obama administration in the media, in Washington and in Congress regarding the peace negotiations, the illegal settlements and the Iran nuclear deal, all the while Obama was making all his arguments based on what he saw as being in Israel’s best interests.
It’s rather disingenuous to claim that assisting Israel despite its intransigence shows maturity in separating Obama-Netanyahu political differences from the US-Israel strategic commitment. In reality, the deal rewards Israel for its intransigence and empowers Netanyahu and the Israeli Right to further militarise, build more illegal settlements and obstruct US strategic interests when it deems it desirable.
If US Secretary of State John Kerry was correct to point out in 2014 that the latest diplomatic attempt could be the last, and its failure will lead to apartheid, the Obama administration has just put the US squarely behind Israel’s apartheid in Palestine.
Pragmatism or hypocrisy
My fifth and last point is about dishonesty as much as falsehood. I could only shake my head in puzzlement when I read The Guardian, The New York Times, and the Associated Press report from Washington about how “the Obama administration has been eager to lock in the agreement before leaving office to help bolster Obama’s legacy and undercut the criticism that his administration was insufficiently supportive of Israel”.
Has the White House sacrificed sound strategy for cynical politics to leave a legacy?
Wasting tens of billions of US tax dollars to bolster a legacy, further militarising Israel, and triggering another arms race in an explosive region for what? For a legacy? A legacy that underlines US support for a country that continues to dispossess and occupy another people in total disregard of US advice, after a quarter of a century of US diplomacy.
Does all this make Obama a pragmatist, or a hypocrite?
Marwan Bishara is the senior political analyst at Al Jazeera. Follow him on Facebook.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.