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The Noose of Aid with Strings Attached

The time has come to assign Republicans their fair share of the blame

The conventional wisdom behind American support for Israel has unraveled.

Supporters of US assistance always stress the importance of maintaining bipartisan backing for Israel among Democrats and Republicans. When differences of opinion have arisen, most of the finger-pointing has been aimed at Democrats, especially as the party’s progressive wing has turned overtly hostile to Israel.

After last week’s foreign aid fiasco in Congress, in which the only sign of bipartisanship was each party agreeing not to compromise with the other, the time has come to assign Republicans their fair share of the blame.

The House of Representatives, with its slim Republican majority, failed to pass a stand-alone $17.6 billion bill for emergency military aid to Israel. The Senate, controlled by a much slimmer Democratic majority, has been stymied on a broader $118 billion package of aid to Israel and Ukraine. The debate was scheduled to continue this week amid political recriminations and no clear path forward.

It’s not surprising that cooperation has reached low tide. Democrats are demoralized and Republicans are in disarray. A report from special counsel Robert Hur, who investigated President Biden’s mishandling of classified documents after his term as vice president ended in January 2017, cast the most serious doubts to date on Biden’s mental fitness to hold his job, not to mention run for another four-year term. Biden dug himself into a deeper hole with a week of gaffes in which he referred to recent conversations with leaders of France and Germany who are long-deceased, couldn’t remember the name Hamas, and then referred to Egypt’s President al-Sisi as the president of Mexico. Calls are growing louder to find a graceful way to replace Biden before it costs Democrats dearly at the polls in November.

The Republicans have leadership issues of their own, starting in the House of Representatives, where Speaker Mike Johnson is captive to his party’s radical wing, and in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is also struggling with age-related issues, faces an outright rebellion. Backstage, former president Trump plays the master puppeteer, pulling strings to enforce his will on the party that he has remade in his name.

At a weekend rally in South Carolina, Trump indicated that future US foreign aid should be structured as loans, which the US could call in at any time. While he singled out Ukraine, and not Israel in that regard, Trump doubled down, posting on social media in his customary all caps: “We should never give money anymore without the hope of a payback, or without ‘strings’ attached.”

President Biden was no less subtle when he issued a presidential memorandum, which has the force of law, that would allow America to “suspend” military aid to any country fighting a war that “arbitrarily denies, restricts, or impedes” humanitarian aid to war zones. Biden’s memorandum essentially sets a 45-day deadline for Israel to provide written assurances that it’s abiding by US terms. It empowers none other than Secretary of State Tony Blinken to be the primary arbiter over what should be considered a violation, and who’s the violator.

A Ticking Time Bomb

This move adds pressure on Israel precisely as the IDF embarks on the most critical phase of its war against Hamas in Rafah, the last major bastion of military resistance, in the southern Gaza Strip. An IDF incursion will require the temporary displacement of more than 1 million Gaza residents, with all that implies for civilian casualties and humanitarian assistance.

The clock is ticking in Israel.

Israel’s Channel 12 news reported that Prime Minister Netanyahu informed his war cabinet on Rosh Chodesh Adar I that the international community has given Israel one more month to wrap the war up before Ramadan, which coincides this year with Adar II.

The same world that is warning Israel it will show zero tolerance for Israeli military action during the Muslim holy month didn’t express similar outrage in Tishrei 1973, when Egypt and Syria launched a sneak attack on Israel on Yom Kippur, or this year, when Hamas invaded Israel on Simchas Torah.

We’ve heard reports before that Israel is fighting on borrowed time. The US initially pressured Israel to wrap things up by the end of 2023, a deadline that shifted to the end of January, and that has now been extended into mid-March. Netanyahu may have also made his statement to the war cabinet to pressure the IDF to intensify its efforts or to throw off his increasingly vocal opposition by giving hope to Israelis that the war is reaching a successful conclusion.

Setting time tables in war is an exercise in futility. Unplanned developments can disrupt the best strategists and tacticians.

No matter what, it’s incumbent upon Israel to internalize that in a Washington gripped with political polarization and paralysis, the rulebook has changed.

With both parties holding virtually an equal number of seats in Congress, Democrats and Republicans are beholden to their radical wings.

American Jews can no longer hide behind the illusion that support for Israel is bipartisan, as it’s now weakening even among Republicans.

Should the US set new and harsher conditions on military aid, Israel must make the necessary adjustments. America’s annual $3.8 billion in military aid to Israel represents about 20% of Israel’s annual defense budget. It’s a big chunk, but Israel still finances 80% on its own. The government shifted budget priorities to find an extra $15 billion to fund the current war, although it’s going to pinch. Israel’s budget deficit will more than double this year. The ratings agency Moody’s took notice and downgraded Israel’s debt from A-1 to A-2, which will raise government borrowing costs in Israel.

On the plus side, the Bank of Israel (BOI) has accumulated more than $200 billion in foreign currency.  Under the provisions of a 2010 law, BOI can tap those funds to provide “an emergency supply of foreign exchange for the economy, at an amount that will suffice during a crisis.”

The United States, no matter who serves as president, has every right to attach terms and conditions to its foreign aid and to treat its allies with tough love.

At the same time, the Israeli government has to operate in its best interests. At some point, it may choose to say thanks, but no thanks. When that day comes, both Israel and the US can embark on a new path toward developing a healthier relationship, replacing the current one based on US patronage and Israeli dependency.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 999)

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