Both Washington and Jerusalem have reaped huge dividends from their longstanding partnership — and those ties are about to grow even stronger.
- By Yair LapidYair Lapid is an Israeli politician and chairman of the Yesh Atid Party.
Israel and the United States are putting the finishing touches on an agreement that will cement our alliance for years to come. The latest Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), set to go into effect in 2018, will provide Israel with about $3.9 billion a year in military aid for 10 years. The real value of this agreement, however, isn’t in the dollar amount, but in the defense technology that Israel will receive and the depth of the security cooperation between the two countries.
The first words that need to be said from the depths of our hearts are “thank you.” This agreement is critical to Israel’s security and the safety of its citizens. We live in the worst neighborhood in the world, surrounded by fundamentalist Islamists who would like nothing more than to see us killed. This agreement is a crucial component of our ability to defend ourselves.
The agreement is also part of a deep and long-standing strategic alliance between Israel and the United States. The foundations of the alliance are emotional and moral. In the two great struggles the West has faced since World War II — the Cold War and the war on terror — we stood together, shoulder to shoulder. And we also share many of the same values: a deep commitment to democracy; the protection of women’s rights, gay rights, and minority rights; and the understanding that freedom must be protected, sometimes with blood.
But as always happens in relations between countries, the agreement also advances both parties’ national interests. The Israeli interest is clear: Without the qualitative and technological edge over our enemies, Israel’s existence would be at risk. On the American side, there have been critics who have asked out loud, “What does America get from this?”
The real answer isn’t economic, of course. Former President John F. Kennedy said, “The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it.”
The agreement with Israel should be analyzed not through the money that is spent, but the money that is saved. A recent Harvard University study found that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will cost the U.S. taxpayer $4 trillion to $6 trillion. The MoU with Israel is merely a fraction of that. A strong and secure Israel significantly reduces the risk that the United States will need to be involved in another war in the Middle East, which would be not only financially costly but also claim the lives of American soldiers.
America’s cooperation with Israel often allows it to pursue an active and influential policy in the Middle East without putting boots on the ground. For instance, without Israel as a forward base for the West in the Middle East, the United States would almost certainly need at least one aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean, in addition to the two stationed in the Gulf, along with its more than 6,500 soldiers and crew.
It would likely also need to build another air force base, like the one at Incirlik in Turkey, where dozens of nuclear warheads are stored. Those options are far more expensive than the MoU with Israel, and far more dangerous for the United States.
Critics will argue, as they usually do, that Israel is the reason the United States needs a military presence in the Middle East. That argument is, at best, unfounded, and, at worst, malicious. Israel has no connection to the American presence in Iraq, the Persian Gulf, or Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden didn’t claim that Israel was the reason for the attack on the Twin Towers — and even the Islamic State doesn’t pretend to be interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Were it not for Israel, the United States would have needed to station troops in the region as a response to the Russian presence in Syria and the rise of the Islamic State in Sinai, and to guarantee the stability of Jordan. Israel doesn’t deal with these issues out of the goodness of its heart, but because it has shared interests with the United States — maintaining stability, advancing democratic values, and fighting terror. When two countries share the same interests, it is the definition of “ally.”
In addition, there are the savings in lives and money that we will never be able to detail. Israel is a regional intelligence superpower, and our bitter experience has turned us into the Middle East’s leading experts in the covert fight against terrorism. The Middle East is the major exporter of terror in the world, and Islamic terrorism has never hidden who it believes to be the “great Satan.”
The cold reality is that there are thousands of people — maybe more — wandering America’s streets happy and carefree who will never know that their lives were saved from a brutal terror attack on U.S. soil because of the defense and intelligence cooperation between the United States and Israel.
It is also important to note that the vast majority of the money Israel receives as part of the MoU — and in the near future, all of it — remains in the United States. Israel will purchase equipment from U.S. defense industries, and the result is the creation of American jobs and a relatively cheap way to test the most advanced arms in field conditions. Anti-missile systems that were developed by the two countries will become part of the American and European defense systems in the Persian Gulf. Likewise, the cooperation in cyber defense and cyber warfare is critical to the economic and military security of the United States.
Despite all this, I would never claim that the MoU is a worthwhile deal only for the United States. I would argue it’s not a deal at all. The MoU is an expression of the strength of the alliance. From Israel’s perspective, it is also an expression of the fact that Lady Liberty never leaves her friends behind.
One of the most difficult moments in the Jewish collective memory is the knowledge that when they came to murder us all, no one came to the rescue. That’s the reason Israel was founded, and the reason we’ll never leave our fate in the hands of others. But the fact that the largest and strongest country in the history of the world stands by our side is nothing less than momentous.
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