NEAR EAST REPORT AIPAC'S BIWEEKLY ON AMERICAN MIDDLE EAST POLICY
By passing the annual foreign aid bill, Congress has ensured that Israel has the ability to defend itself against increasing threats.
Israel uses its U.S. security assistance to purchase advanced U.S. fighter jets, which help keep the tiny country safe.
Congress Approves Annual Aid to Israel
Congress passed and the president signed into law the annual foreign aid bill for fiscal year 2010, which includes $2.22 billion in security assistance to Israel. The aid, approved on Dec. 10 by the House and on Dec. 13 by the Senate, was included in a larger spending bill funding major parts of the federal government.
When combined with $555 million of aid in a previous bill, the legislation brings the total amount of aid to Israel in fiscal year 2010 to $2.775 billion—a $225 million increase from last year. Congress has now fully funded the second year of the 10-year, $30 billion U.S.-Israel Memorandum of Understanding. In that agreement, signed in 2007, Israel is slated to receive gradual increases in aid for the first four years before leveling off at $3.1 billion per year for the remaining six years.
Reps. Nita Lowey (D-NY) and Kay Granger (R-TX), the chair and ranking member, respectively, of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, played leading roles in ensuring that aid to Israel and other important provisions were included in the overall bill. Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Judd Gregg (R-NH), the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Foreign Operations Subcommittee, approved the measures in the Senate.
Why Aid to Israel Matters
U.S. aid to Israel ensures that the Jewish state can maintain its qualitative military edge in the Middle East. A country of only about seven million people, Israel will never have a numerical, or quantitative military edge over its neighbors. (The Arab world plus Iran is about 650 times larger than Israel and 56 times more populous.) But with U.S. help, Israel can have the most advanced military in the region with the newest technology.
Because of the vast number of threats it faces, whether from ballistic missiles or terrorist attacks, Israel is forced to spend proportionately greater sums of money on defense—about 8 percent of its GDP—than any other country in the industrialized world. (In contrast, the United States spends about 4 percent of its GDP on defense.) Without American help, Israel’s qualitative military edge would suffer.
Israel needs U.S. security assistance because there is no way that it can keep up with the defense spending of oil-rich states in the region. In recent years, the growth rate of Saudi Arabia’s military budget was almost six times that of Israel’s, while Iran’s rate of military spending grew 16 times more than the Jewish state’s. BACK TO TOP
Other Important Provisions in the Foreign Aid Bill
The foreign aid bill includes several other key provisions that affect Israel’s security and U.S. interests in the Middle East. It provides $25 million to help the Israeli government resettle Jewish refugees escaping persecution. There are continued restrictions on U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and requirements that the State Department report to Congress on PA performance—important safeguards that are meant to ensure that U.S. tax dollars are spent wisely and effectively.
The bill also requires that the State Department issue a report on whether the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) is complying with U.S. anti-terrorism laws and whether its schools use materials that promote tolerance and non-violent conflict resolution.
In addition, the bill places strict conditions on U.S. security assistance to Lebanon. With Hizballah’s power and influence on the rise in Beirut, U.S. military aid is limited to helping the Lebanese government strengthen border security, interdict arms shipments and combat terrorism.
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New Iran Provisions in Foreign Aid Bill
The foreign aid bill contains new restrictions on energy companies that sell Iran refined petroleum or help Iran improve its domestic refining capabilities. One provision, sponsored by Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL), bars the U.S. Export-Import bank from giving any money to a project that includes a company involved in Iran’s energy sector, unless the president issues a national security waiver or a “cooperating country” exemption.
In addition, the bill requires that the State Department issue a semi-annual report on the status of sanctions against Iran as well as the steps that the United States has taken to enforce existing sanctions laws.
Finally, there are also funds in the bill to expand Internet access in “closed societies”; China and Iran are mentioned by name. BACK TO TOP