U.S. signs record $38 billion in military aid to Israel

President Barack Obama shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., Nov. 9, 2015. CREDIT: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
President Barack Obama shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., Nov. 9, 2015. CREDIT: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

U.S. officials signed a record $38 billion military aid deal to Israel for the next ten years on Wednesday. A State Department announcement called it “the single largest pledge of bilateral military assistance in U.S. history.”

“For as long as the state of Israel has existed, the United States has been Israel’s greatest friend and partner,” said U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice at a signing ceremony at the State Department on Wednesday. “That ironclad bond has endure l’dor v’dor — from generation to generation — across parties and administrations.”

“We are proud that no other administration in history has done more for Israel’s security,” she added.

The deal comes after ten months of behind-the-scenes-talks. The current deal between Israel and the United States, which is set to expire in 2018, gives Israel about $3.1 billion per year in military aid, but other aid is often added on top of that sum.

“It sounds like a bit of a difference, but then if you look at the money that the U.S. Congress routinely gives Israel on top of that $3.1 billion, it’s really not that much more,” reported Al Jazeera’s Patty Culhane. “In 2015, the U.S. Congress gave Israel $620 million for missile defense, so basically Israel is going to get the same amount as it’s been getting.”

Still, the news of a deal is surprising, given that it comes only days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu justified Israeli settlements by arguing that Palestinians supported the “ethnic cleansing” of Jews in the West Bank and said that settlements are not “an obstacle to peace.” The claim was met with criticism by a variety of groups, including the U.S. State Department, which called the video “unhelpful” and “inappropriate.”

“We obviously strongly disagree with the characterization that those who oppose settlement activity or view it as an obstacle to peace are somehow calling for ethnic cleansing of Jews from the West Bank,” State Department Spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said on September 10.

The United Nations, the United States, and most of the international community agree that settlements built on land that Israel captured in 1967 are illegal. Israeli settlements are one of the biggest issues in the peace process.

There are some positive developments in the deal, like gradually requiring the full sum to be spent on U.S. defense contractors. (CNN estimates that as much as 26 percent of U.S. aid to Israel is currently spent on Israeli defense industries.) But while officials have said Israel will not be able to lobby Congress for additional funds during the duration of the deal, Israel can do so during times of war — and it’s not yet clear exactly how that’s defined.

In 2014, Israel received an additional $225 million in emergency funding from the United States for its “Iron Dome” missile defense system during its offensive on Gaza. The U.N. later said that the “the appalling level of violence and unprecedented scale of destruction unleashed by Israel upon the people of Gaza” killed 1,523 Palestinian civilians, including 519 children.

Netanyahu was previously seeking a much larger aid package from the United States, in part due to the Iran nuclear agreement reached last July — which he bitterly opposed. According to Foreign Policy, when Obama first put the record deal on offer to Netanyahu, he opposed it on the grounds that it would signal his support for the Iran nuclear agreement. Netanyahu’s stance may have changed since then, either due to the increase in aid Israel is already receiving or the successes of the nuclear agreement.