As Israel ramps up its ground invasion and bombing campaign against Gaza, one might think that the Jewish state’s fiercest defenders here in the United States would be resolutely holding the line against any suggestion of reducing support to the IDF. Instead, Eli Lake reported this morning, many of Israel’s most prominent hawkish supporters are increasingly open to the idea of reducing or eliminating the billions of dollars in military aid that the United States provides Israel every year.
They have not changed their feathers, to be sure, but rather see a phase-out of aid to be in Israel’s best interests as they understand them. Noah Pollak, who runs the Emergency Committee on Israel, said, “The experience of the Obama years has sharpened the perception among pro-Israel Americans that aid can cut against Israel by giving presidents with bad ideas more leverage than they would otherwise have.”
Elliott Abrams, the former George W. Bush deputy national security adviser and “leading pro-Israel writer and policy analyst” told Lake, “My view is over time it would be healthy for the relationship if the aid diminished. Israel should be less dependent on American financial assistance and should become the kind of ally that we have in Australia, Canada or the United Kingdom, an intimate military relationship and alliance, but no military aid.”
A consistent theme in these arguments is a desire for Israel to gain greater independence in recognition of its changed position from decades ago. David Wurmser, a former Cheney aide who helped author the 1996 “Clean Break” memo that also called for terminating U.S. aid, “said the idea at the time was for Israel to graduate from being a ‘tenuous project’ to a ‘real country.'” Naftali Bennett, the right-wing Israeli Minister of the Economy, said last year that “U.S. military aid is roughly 1 percent of Israel’s economy. I think, generally, we need to free ourselves from it. We have to do it responsibly … but our situation today is very different from what it was 20 and 30 years ago.'”
Abrams noted that Israel’s booming economy (its GDP has doubled since 2000) and recent discovery of significant natural gas reserves has led to talk of a sovereign wealth fund for the country to invest its surplus moneys in, “but I do not believe a country that has a sovereign wealth fund can be an aid recipient.”
In many ways, these pro-Israel hawks echo the sentiments of skeptics of U.S. policy towards Israel, including University of Chicago professor John J. Mearsheimer, who wrote in TAC in 2009 that “Both countries would be much better off if the Obama administration treated Israel the way it treats other democracies, such as Britain, France, Germany, and India.” There are obvious limits to that overlap, as Abrams worries that, “Were there a reduction now, it would be attributed to administration hostility to Israel and be seen as a weakening of U.S. support,” and so doesn’t want to see a reduction in aid until a more friendly administration is in place.
But the desire for Israel to take a more independent, self-sufficient place among the nations seems to be shared by hawks and doves alike, and is at the least worth keeping an eye on.