It’s being billed as historic — the largest-ever U.S. military aid package. The Memorandum of Understanding, which was signed Sept. 14 and will go into effect in 2018, will provide Israel with $3.8 billion in aid a year for 10 years. The increase in aid from the previous MOU’s annual $3.1 billion sends important messages: To enemies like Iran, it says that the United States has Israel’s back; and to America’s Middle East allies, it says that that the United States is not withdrawing from the region.
The agreement was generally welcomed by Jewish institutions, including AIPAC. But in the days after the signing, critics were out in force. Some criticism came from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political adversaries. Left-winger Ehud Barak and right-winger Moshe Yaalon, both military men (one of them, Barak, a former prime minister), argued that Netanyahu could have gotten a better deal if he hadn’t been such a thorn in President Barack Obama’s side, particularly in his very public opposition to the Iran deal.
Whether that’s an accurate assessment or political positioning is the subject of legitimate debate. But once we get past that question, there are two parts of the MOU that have generated significant comment. First, it prohibits Congress from increasing the amount of aid to Israel in non-emergency appropriations and spells out Israel’s commitment to return any such excess grants; and second, it gradually reduces Israel’s ability to spend portions of the military aid on the Jewish state’s own defense industry.
The one has a potentially significant impact on congressional activity regarding Israel, and the other could have a significant impact over time with respect to continued financial support for the growth and support of Israel’s military defense.
The limitation on congressional largess provoked the ire of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). “The idea that the MOU is binding on us, I’m going to fight violently,” Graham said, adding that he was going to propose a $1.5 billion one-time emergency aid package for Israel to prove his point.
We are sympathetic to Graham’s concerns and to the underlying discomfort in Israel. Indeed, we are skeptical of anything that hampers Israel’s ability to raise money when needed and to spend it where it sees fit. But Israel agreed to the MOU’s terms, and further bickering over the issues is not good for anyone. Neither is Graham’s grandstanding, which smells more like the Republican rejection of all things Obama that has stalled government for nearly eight years.
Alas, the domestic grumbling was not limited to Republicans. For example, when the news broke about the agreement’s hamstringing of Congress, former peace negotiator Martin Indyk tweeted that “AIPAC can retire.” Perhaps that remark was, as some have suggested, simply friendly ribbing rather than bad form, but we would have expected more from a man who was once the U.S. ambassador to Israel.
Come to think of it, we would have expected more from pretty much everyone involved.