CommentaryMiddle EastPolitics

The US-Israel ‘special relationship’ subsidizes American military industry and Israeli colonialism

The US military industry's profits from the colonization of Palestinian land is a long-term structuring element of the US-Israel special relationship, Anna Badillo argues

In the wake of U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Syrian Golan Heights, we are seeing a continuation of the Trump’s administration’s flat-out rejection of international law on the status of occupied territories held by Israel since 1967. The timing is significant because it is an attempt by Trump to meddle in the Israeli elections on April 9 which ultimately could benefit Benjamin Netanyahu’s chances for re-election.

The Trump administration seems to care very little about international consensus and international law on the status of the occupied territories. Instead, it has sabotaged the American government’s standing as an “honest broker” and effectively encouraged support for the continuation of Israeli colonization of Arab land.

Until now, no country had recognized Israel’s act of plunder in the Golan Heights. Following the Six Day war in 1967, Israel expelled 130,000 Syrians from the Golan Heights. 14 years later, in  1981, Israel annexed the territory – in violation of international law. The United Nations member states, including the U.S., immediately declared Israeli efforts to change the Golan Height’s status “null and void.” A small population of Syrian Druze are the only survivors of that ethnic cleansing operation.

Greg Shupak, author of The Wrong Story: Palestine, Israel and the Media, argues that “American foreign policy and Israeli settler-colonial capitalism shape what happens across historic Palestine.”

We recently saw this unfold when Trump issued his Jerusalem decree to recognize the city as the Israeli capital, which goes against the international community’s consensus of Jerusalem as a final status issue in negotiations and, again, violates international law. While the U.S. Embassy was moving from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on May 15, Israeli snipers were massacring 60 Palestinians protesters in the Great March of Return at the Gaza fence.

This is not the first time we have seen U.S. foreign policy and Israeli settler-colonial enterprise interfered with the international community’s consensus on Palestinian-Israeli affairs. The Jerusalem Basic Law of 1980 and the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 were highly controversial because of their timing and their political and legal implications, according to Michael Zank, a professor at Boston University.

Both laws were enacted during times when the international coalition was making progress with the Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations. U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat had signed the Camp David Accords, a peace treaty with Israel and Egypt in 1979; consequently, the Jerusalem Basic Law endangered the peace process and negatively impacted the ongoing negotiations.

The Jerusalem Embassy Act was signed into law shortly after the Oslo Accords were concluded and greatly affected the final status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that were held at Camp David in 2000. Both these legislative acts created a binding relationship between Israel and the U.S which ultimately changed the status quo.

But to fully conceptualize the U.S.-Israel special relationship we need to unpack the the preferential arms trade agreements that allows for this relationship to continue at the expense of the indigenous population in the occupied territories.

Max Ajl, a PhD candidate in development sociology at Cornell University, writes: “U.S. ‘military assistance,’ more accurately understood as a circular flow through which U.S. weapons firms profit off the colonization of Palestinian land and Israeli destabilization of the surrounding states, is a long-term structuring element of the U.S.-Israel ‘special relationship.’”

U.S. military loans started arriving in Israel in November 1971, when the Nixon administration signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Israel to build up its domestic industrial-arms sector through technical and manufacturing assistance. Grants started to replace loans in 1974.

The U.S. government shortly afterwards started to permit Israel to spend 26% of the annual military grant on purchases in Israel – a unique arrangement, since by U.S. law recipient countries must spend all of their foreign military financing in the U.S.

According to Ajl, “the Israeli military industry often relies on U.S. technological inputs, and the U.S. forbids Israel from manufacturing crucial heavy weaponry, such as fighter jets, in order to maintain control over Israel.”

U.S. military grants to Israel were often quid pro quo, as Israel increasingly took on the work for which the U.S. could not publicly take responsibility, given popular unease in the States over aid to fascist dictatorships.

As the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network noted in their report, Israel’s Worldwide Role in Repression, in the 1970s, Israel armed the brutal military regime of the Argentinian junta that imposed seven years of state terrorism on the population. Israel also provided most of the arms that Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio “Tachito” Somoza used in the last year of his dictatorship to oppose the revolution, a conflict that killed tens of thousands of Nicaraguans in the 1970s.

By the 2000s, the Israeli military-industrial complex had produced an industry capable of competing in small-arms and high-end security technology on a worldwide scale. Israel started to export arms that have been refined through high-technology colonial policing of the Palestinian population, especially in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. In recent years, Israel has risen to one of the top 10 arms exporters in the world.

Last May Haaretz reported, “Israel’s defense-related exports in 2017 totalled $9.2 billion, an all-time record and whooping 40% increase over 2016 – when defense-related transactions totaled $6.5 billion.”

The Obama administration adjustments to Israel’s military aid package came amidst a shifting geopolitical environment, both within the U.S. and Israel. There was a shift in original MOU that would slowly phase out the provisions through which Israel could spend up to 26% of its funding package within Israel, to Israel spending more of this funding on the advanced military capabilities that only the United States can provide – as much as $1.2 billion per year, according to Ajl.

In addition, this MOU locked in $500 million annually for missile defense.The MOU mandates Israel update its fighter aircraft fleet, which is a direct investment into the U.S. military-industrial complex, given that fighter-jet factories are exclusively based in the United States.

Not only does U.S. foreign policy and Israeli-settler colonialism shape what happens across historic Palestine, it also shapes what happens across the Middle East region.

The firm establishment of Israel’s military defense industry also provides an excuse to sell ever-more-sophisticated weapons to other regional U.S. allies, especially Saudi Arabia. As long as Israel has the latest U.S. technology, other countries can buy older models, again to the great profit of the U.S. defense industry. Israel thus is the spark plug for an entire region-wide weapons bazaar, while also providing such countries the means to destroy and dismantle even poorer countries like Yemen.

This keeps the entire region aflame, oppressed and desperate, and thus unlikely to upset hierarchical regional and international social structures. Ajl suggests that one of reasons the United States pushed through this MOU before Obama left office is the rising discontent within the U.S. population over ongoing support for Israeli colonization of historic Palestine and the surrounding region.

Frida Berrigan, author of Made in the U.S.A.: American Military Aid to Israel, writes that a major barrier to any shift in American policy towards Palestine-Israel is “financial pressures from a U.S military industrial complex accustomed to billions of dollars in sales to Israel and other Middle Eastern nations locked in a seemingly perpetual arms race with each other by all buying American and using Foreign Military Financing (FMF) to pay the bills.”

The United States is the primary source of Israel’s far superior arsenal. Israel’s dependence on the U.S. for aid and arms means that the Israeli military relies on spare parts and technical assistance from the U.S. to maintain optimum performance in battle.

During the Bush administration, from 2001 to 2005, Israel had actually received more in U.S. military aid than it has in U.S. arms deliveries. Over this time period, Israel received $10.5 billion in FMF – the Pentagon’s biggest military aid program – and $6.3 billion in U.S. arms deliveries. According to Berrigan, the most prominent of those deals was a $4.5 billion sale of 102 Lockheed Martin F-16s to Israel.

Unlike other countries, Israel receives its Economic Support Funds in one lump sum early in the fiscal year rather than in four quarterly installments. While other countries primarily deal with the Department of Defense when arranging to purchase military hardware from U.S. companies, Israel deals directly with U.S. companies for the vast majority of its military purchases in the United States. Other countries have a $100,000 minimum purchase amount per contract, but Israel is allowed to purchase military items for far less, according to Berrigan.

Today, Israel has been the beneficiary of approximately $125 billion in U.S. aid. An unimaginable sum, more than any other country since World War II.

U.S. aid is projected to further increase to $165 billion by the end of the new 10-year package, in 2029, according to Charles D. Freilich, a former Israeli deputy national security adviser. U.S. aid constitutes some 3% of Israel’s total state budget and about 1% of its GDP, a highly significant sum. Moreover, U.S. aid constitutes some 20% of the total defense budget, 40% of the budget of the Israel Defense Forces, and almost the entire procurement budget, according to Freilich.

Israel’s dependence on the U.S. is not limited to financial aid and weapons sales. According to Freilich, the U.S. provides technologies for the development of unique weapons systems that Israel needs, such as the Iron Dome and the Arrow rocket and missile defense systems. It mans the radar deployed in Israel, which is linked to the global American satellite system.

Fredilich writes, “There is simply no alternative to American weapons, and our dependence on the United States is almost complete; the bitter truth is that without the United States, the IDF would be an empty shell.” The United States is Israel’s largest trading partner, at least partially due to their bilateral free trade agreement, the first the United States signed with any country.

The U.S.-Israel special relationship is rooted in preferential arms trade agreements as a way to subsidize the U.S. military industry and reinforce support for Israeli colonialism. This special relationship is locked into an arms trade cycle where both the Israeli and American elite class benefits, at the expense of the indigenous population.

The U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over occupied territories provides a boost for Israeli colonialism. We must ask ourselves, “If Trump has consented to Israeli illegal seizure of the Golan Heights and Jerusalem, why not also the West Bank?”

Prime Minister Netanyahu has vowed to annex Israeli settlements in the West Bank if he is re-elected, which will likely be considered as the final blow to the so called possibility of a two-state solution. The Trump administration is expected to announce his “ultimate deal” following the Israeli elections and after a new government is formed.

It is only a matter of time till the Trump administration decides to follow suit and recognize Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank, which will drive the final nail into the coffin of the Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations and solidify Israeli apartheid.


Anna Badillo

Anna Badillo is a research analyst at Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East based in Montreal, Quebec. She holds an M.Phil from Trinity College Dublin, in International Peace Studies.

Anna is a social justice activist and human rights advocate with a focuses on Palestinian-Israeli affairs and international law.


All views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of The Defense Post.

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