US Congress approves $38 billion pledge of military aid to Israel

Representative Eliot Engel, a Democrat from New York, called the bill “the largest single pledge of military assistance in our country's history."
Tuesday 02/10/2018
US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on September 26, 2018 in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. (AFP)
US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on September 26, 2018 in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. (AFP)

WASHINGTON - The US Congress approved a measure requiring the United States to provide $38 billion in military aid to Israel over the next decade and giving Israel increased access to sophisticated US military technology. The bill heads to US President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it into law.

The bill passed the US Senate and House of Representatives with no opposition and reflected how the United States has become increasingly pro-Israel under Trump and as the Jewish state faces threats from Iran and its proxies in Gaza and Lebanon.

“With this bill, we can ensure that Israel has the tools to defend itself and defend our shared interests in the face of that mounting threat,” US Representative Ed Royce, a Republican from California, said on the House floor September 12 before the measure was approved there on a voice vote. The Senate had passed the measure in August on a voice vote with no opposition.

Representative Eliot Engel, a Democrat from New York, called the bill “the largest single pledge of military assistance in our country's history” and said it showed that “the US-Israel relationship is here to stay.”

“The US-Israel partnership has never been stronger than it is today,” added Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican from Florida and long-time Israel supporter.

The bill codifies an agreement that former US President Barack Obama reached with Israel in 2016 to provide $38 billion in military aid over ten years. Establishing the agreement as law makes it difficult for any US president to break the agreement because the move would require the approval of Congress.

Although the bill was hailed by Israel and its supporters, key provisions were removed before it was approved. The House of Representatives deleted a section that would have allowed Israel to acquire American precision-guided weapons such as missiles, bombs and artillery shells, which hit targets with exceptional accuracy and lethality and are intended to minimise civilian casualties.

The weapons could enable Israel to strike more aggressively against Iranian positions in Syria or against Hezbollah in Lebanon, just across Israel’s northern border. House members removed the provision over a technicality concerning which Senate committee would have to provide approval.

Another deleted section of the original measure would have created a joint Israeli-American research and development programme on cybersecurity. However, the bill would expand US-Israeli cooperation in developing military drones and space exploration.

The measure was approved just days after the Trump administration closed the offices of the Palestine Liberation Organisation in Washington and announced it was cutting hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Palestinians and to the UN organisation that aids millions of Palestinian refugees.

Engel called the measure “very timely. The threats facing the United States and Israel are becoming more urgent and more complex. ISIS [the Islamic State] is growing in the Sinai. Israel's neighbours are shouldering new burdens from refugees, causing further instability. And Iran's behaviour in the region has, unfortunately, become even more dangerous.”

Representative Chris Smith, a Republican from New Jersey, said the military aid improves US national security. “The US is safer when Israel is stronger,” Smith said on the House floor.

Israel has for decades been the largest recipient of US military aid. From 2007-16, the United States gave Israel $3 billion a year. In 2016, Obama agreed to increase the aid package to $3.8 billion a year even as his relations cooled with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Obama criticised the construction of Israeli settlements in occupied sections of the West Bank.

The measure was applauded by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a powerful lobbying group, and the World Jewish Congress.