The signing last week of an agreement between the United States and Israel mandating 10 years of continued American military assistance to the Jewish state was greeted with applause in both countries.
Friends of Israel here are pleased that the administration has shown its willingness to increase the level of military aid from an annual average of $2.4 billion to $3 billion. And Israel's leadership is particularly pleased that the new decade-long pact will be aimed at maintaining Israel's qualitative edge over potential Arab foes.
We join in the applause for this deal on a number of grounds.
Perhaps most important is that the symbolism of this 10-year deal for American aid reinforces the permanence and the closeness of the U.S.-Israel alliance.
Ten years ago, former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu negotiated another decade-long agreement on aid that eliminated economic aid and instead concentrated on assistance that was strictly limited to his nation's security needs. This new agreement follows that pattern.
Next, in announcing the agreement, the United States stated explicitly that more military aid was necessary because of the increased threat that Israel faces from an extremely dangerous Arab world. Last year's Second Lebanon War illustrated the peril that an entrenched terrorist foe such as Hezbollah can present. But the military threat posed by that group's sponsors — Syria and a potentially nuclear Iran — is even greater. The fact that Washington is prepared to state this openly not only strengthens Israel's position but also may help serve as a deterrent to future adventurism on the part of these rogue regimes.
But as happy as we are about the nature of this U.S. commitment, it is just as important to dispel certain myths about the nature of this assistance and the price tag that comes with it.
Let no one be under any illusions about who benefits the most from this and all of the previous military aid that has passed from Washington to Jerusalem. The overwhelming majority of the funds that are allocated to such assistance are spent right here in the United States on American-made military hardware. Indeed, if there is anything really new about the latest agreement it is that the Americans have agreed to let Israel spend about a quarter of the money in Israel on items that are manufactured there.
Seen in this light, it becomes clear that the complaints of Israel-bashers about American treasure being hijacked by the "Zionist conspiracy" is pure bunk. While Israel certainly needs and wants the armaments and material purchased here with the aid, the biggest beneficiary of this generosity remains the people who invest in and work at American arms manufacturers, not the ordinary people of Israel.
More troubling than that, though, is the fact that the timing of this announcement is tied to another arms deal: a $20 billion sale to Saudi Arabia. The myth of Saudi moderation is popular in Washington, but the truth is that any deal that puts such weapons in the hands of this Islamist regime is a gamble for America and puts the lie to American promises to maintain Israel's edge in this field.
That is precisely why we urge Congress to examine the Saudi deal carefully in the coming months and remove the most dangerous high-tech weapons from the bill of sale.
Predictably, the enticement of the new aid package has caused Israel's government to signal its acquiescence to the Saudi sale. That decision is understandable from a diplomatic point of view. But it also shows that no matter how generous aid might be, it sometimes comes with a price tag that is far from cheap.