Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Potential flaws of the US defense aid package - Yoram Ettinger

by Yoram Ettinger

The 2007 package was lower in scope -- $3.1 billion annually -- but did not prohibit independent initiatives by Congress, which has demonstrated awesome muscle in determining domestic as well as international relations and national security policies

Israel's apparent desire to conclude, as soon as possible, a generous, 10-year defense aid package with the United States -- to enhance short and medium-term economic and national security certainty -- could result in severe short- and long-term injuries to Israel's ties with the U.S. and Israel's national security. 

Should Israel accept President Barack Obama's terms for the deal, as reported by the media, then the new 10-year defense package could be dramatically different from the previous one, concluded in 2007. 

The 2007 package was lower in scope -- $3.1 billion annually -- but did not prohibit independent initiatives by Congress, which has demonstrated awesome muscle in determining domestic as well as international relations and national security policies. 

Also, the 2007 package included annual funding of Israel's groundbreaking missile defense research, development -- shared with the U.S. government and defense industries -- and U.S.-Israel coproduction. It expected Congress to increase the funding of U.S.-Israel's cost-effective missile defense projects, and allocated 25% of the package to Israeli game-changing defense research and development initiatives, which have been shared with the U.S. 

Since 2007, there has been a dramatic surge in Israel's contributions to the U.S. in the areas of intelligence, research and development, training, operations, supporting pro-U.S. Arab regimes and extending the strategic hand of the U.S., while the U.S. military-footprint and defense budget have been reduced drastically, and the U.S.'s European allies are consumed with Islam-driven terrorism and potential anarchy on the home front.

On April 25, 2016, Congress demonstrated its inherent appreciation of Israel when 83 Senators sent a letter to Obama, demanding a larger U.S.-Israel defense package. An Israeli acquiescence to the exclusion of Congress as a key initiator of future U.S.-Israel cooperation would amount to a self-defeating downgrading of the coequal, codetermining Congress, which has the power of the purse and is the most authentic representative of the American people. It has been a systematic ally of Israel, while all U.S. presidents since 1948 (with the exception of President George W. Bush) have pressured Israel economically, militarily and diplomatically. 

Representing the pro-Israel sentiments of most Americans -- 71% according to the latest Gallup poll -- Congress has, traditionally, counterbalanced the multilateral, developing world and U.N.-oriented, pro-Arab worldview of State Department bureaucracy, which opposed the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 and has been critical of Israel since then.

Congress played a central role in upgrading U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation, jointly with -- and in defiance of -- U.S. presidents, especially during global uncertainties, violence and intensified threats. For example, in defiance of President George H. W. Bush's and Secretary of State James Baker's misreading of regional and global trends, coupled with their adversarial position on Israel, Congress was the key player and initiator of the unprecedented expansion of U.S.-Israel defense cooperation following the collapse of the Soviet Union (when Bush and Baker were oblivious to the rising threat of rogue regimes), before Iraqi leader Hussein Saddam's 1990 invasion of Kuwait (when Bush and Baker embraced Hussein and viciously criticized Israel), and before and following the Gulf War (when the White House ignored Israel's role as America's most reliable, effective and unconditional strategic ally). 

The assumption that the new defense package will prevent Israel from collaborating with Congress and submitting new initiatives and requests for the next 10 years should be assessed against the realistic, worst-case global and Middle East scenarios. Thus, as momentous as the aftermath of the Arab Spring has been since 2011, it will probably be dwarfed by the intolerant violence around the corner, especially in (and from) the Middle East, which has been -- since the seventh century -- the most fragmented, unstable, unpredictable, volcanic, intolerant, violent, anti-Western region in the world, religiously, ideologically, politically and militarily. 

The U.S. and Israel cannot afford to base their strategic cooperation on a fixed or framework, ignoring global herky-jerky trends. The U.S. and Israel should not demote and exclude the coequal Congress from the process of strategic cooperation, at a time of a potential European collapse, swift proliferation of Islam-driven terrorism, an emboldened regime of the Ayatollahs and a possible toppling of pro-U.S. regimes in the Middle East, which will further exacerbate the security situation. 

A rush to conclude a memorandum of understanding before Jan. 20, 2017 in order to spare the uncertainties surrounding the next president -- along with the expected delay of a few months or a year in finalizing the defense package by the incoming president -- would sacrifice long-term strategic interests on the altar of short-term strategic convenience. It would write off effective congressional muscle, and therefore the full potential of American goodwill. 

In addition, both presidential candidates are at least as pro-Israel as Obama is, and would therefore support a defense package at least as generous as is currently proposed, receiving a thunderous support on Capitol Hill. 

The supposed demand by Obama, to deny Congress the capability to upgrade and initiate future U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation undermines the U.S. Constitution, and may reflect an intention to constrain future enhancement of such cooperation, which has uniquely contributed to the U.S. economy, national security and homeland security.

Finally, when it comes to U.S. memorandums of understanding, guarantees and treaties, one should note their three critical and legitimate attributes: non-specificity and ambiguity, intended to facilitate partial implementation; non-automaticity, enabling delay, suspension and non-implementation; and avoiding implementation if it harms U.S. interests. For example, in 1957, President Eisenhower issued an Executive Agreement -- in exchange for Israel's full withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula -- supposedly committing U.S. troops on behalf of Israel should Egypt violate the cease-fire. However, in 1967, Egypt violated the cease-fire and established an anti-Israel Arab military front, but President Lyndon B. Johnson contended that the agreement was non-binding.

U.S. and Israeli policy-makers may benefit from Benjamin Franklin's advice: "He that can have patience can have what he will."

Yoram Ettinger


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