Sunday, February 2, 2014

Cheap at the price: Why the USA supports Israel

In debates about Israel, I frequently see references to US aid to Israel.  This is generally provided as evidence of the power of the "Israel lobby" to divert American resources without reference to US needs.  The underlying assumption of this thesis is that support for Israel is not an American interest.

In fact the USA has important reasons for supporting Israel. Modern arms are extremely expensive to produce and generate no financial rewards, unless of course you manage to sell them.  The USA is the world's largest exporter of arms and the profits that it generates on arms sales help fund its arms manufacturers, whose main expense is not manufacturing the arms but doing the research and development needed to design them: By making arms manufacturing more profitable arms sales lower the procurement price for the US military and fund the research required to develop the next generation of weapons.  To put it differently, US military power - at the moment it is the strongest nation on earth - is dependent on its ability to produce the best weapons and sell them.

 Israel is a major customer for US arms - US aid to Israel is not spend it how you please cash, but credits to buy US weapons. The Israelis get a percentage of arms freebies but at the same time the Israelis are among the largest customers for US weaponry and US freebies prevent the Israelis from developing cheaper alternatives or shopping around- which could undermine the USA.  Israel is a major testing ground for US weapons, and Israeli innovation and research plays a key role in forming the next generation of US weapons. Much of US aid actually goes to fund Israeli military research and development and in return Israel gives the USA access to the know how generated by that research.  For example the US funded Israeli anti-missile missiles such as Iron Dome and in return received the technology developed by the Israelis free of charge.

Every major US computing firm (Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Intel, Google etc) maintains an R & D center in Israel - per capita R & D in Israel is the highest in the world by along shot: They do so because it's cheaper here and the Israelis are good at it. What applies to computing also applies to arms. The Israelis use the arms credits they receive to build co-manufacturing and R & D agreements.  In addition many armies round the world use the Israelis as a model ("I'll have what they are having") so that US sales to Israel generate a lot of follow on sales to other states. Israeli use of US weaponry demonstrates its effectiveness - and how to use it.

Basically the US is (to paraphrase President Johnson) "better off with Israel inside the tent pissing out then outside the tent pissing in".

If your assumption is that the USA has no interest and gains nothing from supporting Israel then its very easy to be drawn into a world view which assumes mythical "Jewish power"  and the "Jewish lobby" is the entire cause of US support for Israel. My view is that US support is the product of circumstance and that the lobby, such as it is, merely enhances that support and makes it harder to change direction. It isn't the cause of US support for Israel and in fact the peak of Jewish power in the USA was in the Fifties when US government ties with Israel were quite minimal.


Finally I should mention that the highest recipients of international aid per capita are a variety of small Pacific Island states, but if you rule them out then the highest recipients per-capita are the Palestinians - and by a large margin. See http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/DT.ODA.ODAT.PC.ZS.  the Palestinians receive aid from a huge variety of nations.  World Bank data does not include military aid so it is probably larger in reality. The Israelis get their aid almost exclusively from the USA, almost exclusively as military aid, and receive less per person (though not by a huge margin) then the Palestinians.  Afghans receive more per person the the Israelis: see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_foreign_aid.

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